150,000 new homes at risk of lacking certification in 2023 as pointless regulatory duplication hits capacity constraints

As the UK is not intending to move away from EU standards, it rather begs the question of why it would go to the trouble of introducing an entirely new certification regime.

Photo – RPM (Flickr)

The construction industry has warned the government that the exit from the European construction products certification system is causing severe problems across the sector.

In a letter addressed to Michael Gove and Kwasi Kwarteng, in their capacities as secretary of states for Housing/Levelling Up and Business, respectively, the Construction Leadership Council warn that this is impacting the certification of numerous building products, from radiators, to glass, glues and sealants.

As new homes require these certificates in order to be put up for sale, this could have a knock-on effect on 150,000 new homes from January 2023 onwards – when these products will need a UK, not an EU, certificate.

The EU-based system, Conformité Européenne or CE, involves a pan European network of accredited bodies sanctioned to undertake the certification – which Britain has now lost access to (due to the Northern Ireland Protocol, construction firms in the polity can continue to use the European system). As the British government has simply transposed the old EU rules into its new certification process, this is arguably another example of pointless regulatory duplication. According to the construction sector, however, the UK currently lacks the capacity to meet its domestic accreditation needs, requiring an urgent plan from the government to ensure supply fulfils demand.

Andy Mitchell, co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council, said in the letter:  

“Our main cause of concern is that for a significant range of construction products there is limited or no capacity for these tests to be carried out in line with the UK Construction Product Regulations. There must be a significant expansion of facilities with the incumbent recruiting and training of staff, who must all then receive authorisation by UKAS, before more products can be put through the new process. Unfortunately, this expansion of capacity is not happening quickly enough.

 “We have been collecting tangible evidence from construction product manufacturers about the lack of testing capacity. The evidence makes clear that numerous common and essential products such as radiators, glass, passive fire protection, glues and sealants will be adversely affected by a lack of UK testing capability.

“The consequences are clearly damaging not only to the UK construction sector but also to the government’s ambitions around housebuilding, infrastructure, building safety and net zero in the built environment.”

The construction industry has put a number of demands on the government, which include allowing subcontracting to overseas bodies. For a project, Brexit, based on economic nationalism, this would create another contradictory situation, in which British testing firms are cut out of the EU market based on CE construction products regulation system, while their European competitors freely sell to Britain, making up for the shortfall in local capacity.

A pragmatic and sensible alternative exists, but implementing it would require breaking the government’s Brexit ‘red lines’ on total regulatory sovereignty. The UK could commit to regulatory cooperation within the existing European system for construction products, reopening the European market for UK-based testing firms. But this could also be combined with new investment in local testing and accreditation capacity in order to grow the domestic sector.