Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2001

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Mr. Clifton-Brown: I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2001 (S.I. 2001, No. 3335.)

These regulations are far less controversial, and we have prayed against them only because of one narrow issue. The changes on the insulation of all new buildings will go some way towards cutting our carbon dioxide emissions and meeting our Kyoto targets. We support the regulations in principle, but I will probe the Government on one matter, which is related to the associated documents and mobile buildings.

Ms Keeble: On a point of order, Mr. Hurst. I have raised this question before with you and the hon. Member for Cotswold. His point concerns paragraphs 0.25 and 0.26 of the approved document, and not the regulations that are being prayed against. It would be helpful to have a ruling on whether, when praying against a statutory instrument, one must speak to that statutory instrument. Can one raise any matter in the associated documents? That is especially important because there are clear demarcations in the associated documents. For the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, that is on the first page under the title ``Use of guidance''. It says:

    ``Approved Documents are intended to provide guidance for some of the more common building situations. However, there may well be alternative ways of achieving compliance with the requirements. Thus there is no obligation to adopt any particular solution contained in an Approved Document if you prefer to meet the relevant requirement in some other way.''

The Chairman: The statutory instrument is narrowly drawn, and the associated document is guidance. It would be unreasonable to exclude entirely references to it and I am sure that hon. Members will keep their minds on the narrowness of the regulations and adjust their debating skills accordingly.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Hurst. Although the approved document makes it clear that the regulations apply to mobile buildings, the specification of and improvements to those mobile buildings are in the regulations. I hope that by raising the issue, I will be able to follow your guidance.

We said that we generally welcome the regulations, because they improve the insulation of all new buildings and therefore cut CO2 emissions. The Government are planning to give builders and owners of temporary accommodation five years to convert all buildings. We want to examine that length of time, because the Government were originally going to give a longer period. We have correspondence between the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the main providers of the mobile buildings that said that the Government were going to exclude mobile buildings. As a result of further lobbying, the Government decided to include them.

We do not object to the inclusion of new mobile buildings, but under the regulations, after five years all existing mobile buildings will be moved to another site and will have to meet the requirements. In other words, they will become redundant, because it is not possible to bring an old mobile building up to the new standards. Have the Government thought through the regulations, and what do they estimate that the cost to the public purse will be? We all know that a large number of temporary classrooms are used by local authorities to track the pattern of increased teaching demand, and so are moved from school to school. Local authorities will no longer be able to use the mobile buildings, because they do not meet the regulations. We have made estimates and the cost to the education sector alone will be some £200 million to £300 million a year. I hope that the Government will be able to give us some answers. If our information is correct and that will be the cost to the public purse, the Government should seriously consider extending the period from five to 10 years, because, although some mobile buildings have been in place since after the war, their useful life is generally 10 to 15 years. Therefore, it would make sense to make the transitional period 10 years for existing buildings.

The education sector is not the only one to use mobile buildings. The health service, the Ministry of Defence and other Departments also use them. It is worth noting that in an answer to a parliamentary question on 4 July the Minister for School Standards said that the Government would release information relating to the number of temporary school buildings towards the end of the year. There are now six weeks left to the end of the year. It would be interesting to know how many temporary buildings there are, and perhaps the Minister can inquire about that. If the Government do not know how many there are, I do not know how they will calculate the cost that the regulations are imposing on the public purse.

I have raised that problem and declared my interest as a chartered surveyor. Members of my profession will undoubtedly get work from the regulations, although I will not benefit personally in any pecuniary way. I commend the improvements made by the regulations to insulation, heaters and existing sewage systems, and in the building of new sewerage systems, and I commend the other changes that it makes.

6.59 pm

Ms Keeble: The requirements of the regulations are functional and refer not to mobile but to portable buildings. The approved documents refer to buildings constructed from sub-assemblies.

The issues raised by the hon. Gentleman appear in the approved document, not the statutory instrument. The document has gone through a different consultation process: a concession was indeed made to the industry, and we understand that all concerns have been resolved. I also reiterate my earlier health warning on the status of approved documents. A regulatory impact assessment, which has not been questioned, was carried out on the impact of the statutory instrument. The Department has already consulted on the provisions of the approved documents with a wide range of bodies, so the concerns raised about portable buildings have been dealt with comprehensively.

7.1 pm

Matthew Green: We welcome most of the statutory instrument's provisions. We would like it to be changed a little further because two opportunities have been missed. First, the statutory instrument has not made sufficient provision for the re-use of water. Projects such as the Beddington zero energy development project in Surrey have shown that water re-use can reduce by 20 per cent. the amount of rainwater passing through the sewerage system. In times of flooding, we would welcome the reduction of run-off, which would reduce the stress placed on the sewerage system.

Secondly, the statutory instrument does not require buildings to make use of daylight to reduce lighting needs. Pioneering architects have carried out considerable work in designing buildings to reduce by natural means the need for lighting. Those provisions notwithstanding, we welcome the statutory instrument.

7.3 pm

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I did not want to release details of my correspondence, but the Minister was a little disingenuous, which forces me to do so. I have permission to cite a letter from M.P. Hunt, the chairman of the National Prefabricated Building Association. The Committee will get the flavour of what happened from the letter, which is dated 19 September and addressed to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. It states:

    ``Buildings are constructed to have a long life span and the regulations as written, and subsequently revised, basically limit much of the stock of buildings built for hire to a life span of 6 years.''

Although he writes of buildings for hire, the same principle applies to the public sector. He continues:

    ``Our objective was, and always has been, to seek an improvement to the potential life of buildings in the hire industry.''

Then—this is the important paragraph, and expresses strong sentiments for an association chairman:

    ``As an industry we feel that we have not been given a `fair hearing' and would appreciate your agreement to an early meeting to discuss our concerns for the industry in relation to the Energy Efficiency Regulations.''

Those regulations are the statutory instrument that we are discussing.

The portable buildings industry does not feel that the Minister's Department is giving it a fair hearing. Unless the Minister can assure me that she will look at the matter seriously and seriously consider the cost to the public purse, I may again have to force a vote against the statutory instrument, although I did not intend to do so.

7.5 pm

Ms Keeble: I shall deal first with the point about daylight. The approved documents suggest that designers take note for the need for daylight in the selection of window size and when designing lighting control systems. The statutory instrument covers several issues of principle and the details are spelt out in the approved documents. The statutory instrument does not deal specifically with rainwater. It suggests ways of disposing of rainwater that is not to be retained.

I ask the hon. Member for Cotswold what he is trying to achieve in opposing the statutory instrument. There has been a process of praying against the statutory instrument and a process of careful consultation on the approved documents. There has been correspondence between the chairman of the National Prefabricated Building Association and two Ministers over a good period of time. The hon. Gentleman quoted the most recent letter in that correspondence, which asked for a meeting; that is a normal request for a Minister to receive and is part of a different process from praying against a statutory instrument. The provisions improve on the previous requirements. They take note of changed circumstances and present the way forward for the industry.

7.8 pm

 
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