Some months I’m sitting here chewing the end of my HB pencil, wondering what to write about. Others, it seems that everything is happening at once. As I write this piece, it’s a few short weeks after the general election results were announced.
We're all reeling from a series of unexpected events that have shattered the cosy confidence of the Tories and given an unforeseen boost to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. One possible factor being mooted for the shock outcome was the high turnout of young voters disaffected by a perceived lack of opportunity for home ownership or rental at sensible prices, because we simply aren’t building enough new dwellings – especially at the affordable end. It’s a fair point.
Indeed, one of the high-profile casualties for the Tories was Gavin Barwell, the Housing and Planning Minister. Once again we have a new appointee, the seventh to hold the post since 2010.
The new Housing and Planning Minister is Alok Sharma, MP for Reading West. I’m sure the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA) will waste no time in getting a date in the diary to discuss self and custom build issues with him – especially the 10-point manifesto listing our priorities for the sector. Also on the agenda will be how self and custom build can do its part in meeting what is now a critical shortfall of new homes.
Other events are more sobering. I was watching the television, aghast at the images of the recently refurbished Grenfell Tower in North Kensington as it was engulfed in flames. It would be wrong to speculate on causes and point any fingers before a full enquiry into the tragic event is made.
However, my heart goes out to anyone affected by that terrible inferno, and to the emergency services that risked life and limb to get so many people out.
I’ve seen a few comments to the effect that “all work was done in accordance with Building Regulations” and that the refurbishment “complied fully with fire safety requirements” – but that wasn’t enough here.
It made me think of the number of conversations I’ve had with people trying to add extra space to existing dwellings − either via a loft conversion, the creation of a basement or trying to reconfigure a house for multiple occupancy. In a small but significant number of these projects, I’ve found myself explaining the Building Regulations for escape routes and fire doors to people concerned with how little they can get away with, and how to avoid spending the sometimes considerable sums of money necessary to comply.
I know that there are countless loft conversions done under the radar of building control where there's no staircase, no fire doors and no escape route. These shortcuts only come to light when the house is being sold, and potential buyers ask to see the building control certification to show the work has been done right. Given the events we’ve witnessed, I think it shows how important it is to get this crucial element of your building project right.
Image: James French. Contemporary renovation and extension of a period home