Heather Holbrook: Construction industry must face up to new building regulations

The new building regulations can ensure Scotland leads the way in delivering safe, compliant construction projects but they don’t come without their challenges, says Heather Holbrook.

Heather Holbrook: Construction industry must face up to new building regulations

Heather Holbrook

At the start of October, Scotland ushered in a new wave of building regulations, aimed at improving the safety provision of the country’s construction sector.

Announced in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, the Building (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2019 provide a crucial step towards ensuring the continued safety of Scotland’s domestic and non-domestic properties by placing greater emphasis on fire safety and minimising the chance of a similar tragedy reoccurring in the future.

This applies to any individual or business undertaking either new builds or refurbishments involving a change of use or material. This essentially means that from 1 October, builders operating in Scotland must source any insulation and cladding materials required for their build developments from compliant suppliers.

There’s no denying these regulations are an extremely positive step towards helping to protect people from a similar tragedy that spawned them into being. However, they don’t come without their challenges.

Compliant products and materials are currently in short demand due to the lack of alternatives being openly available on the market. Furthermore, the industry is faced with competing suppliers reviewing and revising their product specifications to comply with the new regulations – an onerous and time-consuming process. As a result, we expect there to be a niche market resulting in material lead-in times and costs increasing, which contractors will need to factor into current projects to try and avoid delays and budget disputes.

Taken in isolation, it may only be a limited knock-on impact to contractors, but when combined with the uncertainty caused by Brexit, the consequences may be more severe than expected, both in terms of cost and timeframe in sourcing materials.

As with nearly every sector in Scotland, a no-deal Brexit could also greatly impact our industry’s supply chain. One such example is importing timber. As the second-biggest importer of timber products in the world, and with two-thirds currently sourced from within the European Union (EU), the UK and Scotland will be in a precarious position should it leave without securing a deal.

Not only is there real fear that the cost of importing timber will surge – in tandem to the cost of compliant insulation and cladding – another chief concern is enhanced duties and the wider question marks around other potential quotas and increased red tape. This will put large parts of the industry under further strain.

Secondly, the procurement and supply chain are other areas that both the building regulations and Brexit may fundamentally impact. Currently, construction firms rely on ‘just-in-time’ fulfilment, which means that most materials can be sourced within a tight timescale. Loss of access to the single market and complex restrictions on cladding and insulation may cause shortages in importing essential resources meaning that this may not be possible in the future.

Historically in Scotland, you do not pay for materials until they are included into the works, but this will most likely have to change, and we may have to migrate to a forward-fund model, which will undoubtedly cause issues. This will also involve a host of other legal, storage and double-handling cost issues that will need to be resolved.

Despite Scotland’s property market being buoyed by several new, multi-billion-pound projects – such as Scotland Excel £1.5 billion new build housing framework – the industry needs to adapt quickly to these changes to ensure minimal disruption to planned or future developments. It may mean short term disruption, but it will ultimately demonstrate that Scotland leads the way in delivering safe, compliant construction projects to both individuals and investors.

  • Heather Holbrook is regional director at Thomas & Adamson

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