Dentons' UK prepare a monthly guide to new and proposed legislation that will affect the construction industry. The March 2020 update is below.

Tax: changes to IR35

Changes to the off-payroll working rules (IR35) were scheduled to come into effect on 6 April 2020. However, the UK government has postponed the operation of the changes until April 2021 because of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. See this link for more detail. This postponement is not a cancellation but intended to help businesses and individuals dealing with the impact of the virus. Businesses should still prepare for the changes ahead of April 2020. You can find government guidance on preparation here. (Updated March 2020.)

Brexit: EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. A transition period will follow “Brexit” and is scheduled (currently) to expire on 31 December 2020. To that end, the revised UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement (which sets out the terms on which the UK will leave the EU) and the Political Declaration (which sets out intentions for the future EU/UK relationship) were presented to Parliament in October 2019. (For further detail, read the House of Lords EU Select Committee updated analysis of the revised agreement and declaration here.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill 2019-2020 (the EUWA Bill) was introduced into Parliament on 20 December 2019. The EUWA Bill is intended to implement the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement into UK domestic law and pave the way for trade negotiations between the UK and the EU. Members of Parliament approved the Third Reading of the EUWA Bill on 9 January 2020 and it is currently being considered by the House of Lords. The key changes made in the latest version of the Withdrawal Agreement are highlighted in a report published by the House of Commons Library on 6 January 2020.

Businesses should pay careful attention to trade negotiations during the transition period. It is difficult to predict what kind or extent of trade deals will be agreed. If the transition period does end on 31 December 2020, there may be little time for businesses to implement new trade processes into their business and there is still a possibility that agreement on crucial areas of trade will not be made in time.

Climate change:

Pledges and regulatory measures to deal with climate change continue to emerge. By way of example:

  • Scotland signed the Transport Decarbonisation Alliance (TDA) Charter at the COP25 (Conference of the Parties) UN Climate Summit in Madrid committing to working towards net-zero transport ahead of the 2050 Paris Agreement target. Glasgow is due to host COP26 in November 2020.

Low carbon heating by 2024 (Scotland)

  • The Scottish Government announced it will develop new regulations to ensure all new homes use renewable or low carbon heating from 2024. The aim is to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions for new-build homes. The scheme will run alongside a £30 million investment in renewable heat projects.
  • The European Commission has announced the launch of the European Green Deal which aims to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050. A climate law is expected in March 2020 to legislate for this target. As part of the plans, the Commission will publish a renewed sustainable finance strategy later in 2020 setting out how the private sector will help finance this green transition.

Fire Safety: Cladding ban

Measures to prevent a repeat of the Grenfell fire now include:

  • On 19 December 2019, the government announced its plans to introduce the Fire Safety Bill 2019/2020, although a date for the Bill’s second reading has not yet been set. The Bill will implement the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry Phase 1 Report. Building owners and managers of multi-occupied residential premises will be required to consider and mitigate the risks of external wall systems and fire doors.
  • Following the judgment in R (British Blind and Shutter Association) v. Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government [2019] EWHC 3162 (Admin), the government has issued a circular to confirm the quashing of part of the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (SI 2018/1230) (the cladding ban regulations) (relating to the banning of products designed to reduce heat gain within buildings). The circular makes clear that the judgment does not otherwise affect the cladding ban and emphasises government policy to the effect that combustible materials should not be used in or on external walls or in any attachments to such walls. A review of the cladding ban is already underway and a fresh consultation might be undertaken.
  • The Building (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2019 (WSI 2019/1499) came into force on 13 January 2020 to ban the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings in Wales (including all new residential buildings and hospitals more than 18 metres in height). Amendments to the Approved Document B (Fire Safety) Volumes 1 and 2, and Approved Document 7 (Materials and Workmanship) accompanying the Building Regulations, have been made to reflect the ban. The guidance in this section “is designed to reduce the risk of vertical fire spread in tall buildings and the risk of ignition from flames coming from adjacent buildings”.

Housebuilding: Future Homes Standard

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)’s consultation on its proposals for a new Future Homes Standard: changes to Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations for new dwellings closed on 7 February 2020. The Standard aims to improve energy efficiency in dwellings in England by 2025 by requiring new-build homes to be future-proofed with low carbon heating and high levels of energy efficiency. This consultation document is the first stage of a two-part consultation about proposed changes to the Building Regulations. It covers the wider impacts of Part L for new homes, including changes to Part F (ventilation), its associated Approved Document guidance, airtightness and improving as-built performance of the constructed home.

The MHCLG has also published a National Design Guide setting out what it expects from new developments.

Planning: Welsh residential development

The Welsh government has put "placemaking" at the heart of the Welsh planning system. Placemaking is a key element in delivering the aspirations of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. It aims to ensure that planning decisions, big or small, will improve the lives of both current and future generations. (See Planning Policy Wales (PPW) Edition 10.)

Placemaking is now a key consideration when making development plans and development management decisions. To reinforce this policy, to ensure that Local Development Plans are produced in line with community expectations and to avoid speculative and unsustainable residential development, the Welsh government has amended the provisions regarding ‘Significant Residential Development’ in the Town and Country Planning (Notification) (Wales) Direction 2012 and paragraphs 16 to 18 of Welsh Government Circular 07/12.

The Town and Country Planning (Major Residential Development) (Notification) (Wales) Direction 2020, which is accompanied by guidance, requires that where a local planning authority is proposing to approve the residential development of more than 10 residential units, or on a site of more than 0.5 hectares of land, or that does not accord with the local development plan for the site concerned, it must notify Welsh Ministers and provide details of the development. The ministers then have 21 days to respond. The Direction became effective from 15 January 2020.

This article was first published in Construction Law as the "State of Play 247". To subscribe to Construction Law, click here: www.constructionlaw.uk.com.