In the weeks to come, as the industry scrambles to get ready for revised Building Regulations coming into force from June 15th, there will be a massive increase in debate around the rules, their implementation and whether we need to be providing homeowners with a choice when it comes to trickle vents.

The fact is, we are beyond the point of choice. We have moved past the point where we can debate whether it’s a provision that should have been afforded in the new regulations.

Moreover, this entire episode around the updated Building Regulations, and how almost no one appears to be happy about the end result, is very much our fault.

Failure to act collectively

We’re moving from a “planning” to an “implementing” phase of Building Regulations. The time for talking is done. The focus must now be on gearing up to facilitate higher volumes of sales of windows with trickle vents in them. Fabricators will need to figure out this changes their production, if they haven’t done so already. Installers will need to change their pitch to their clients and explain the changes that are coming. Trickle vent suppliers will need to ramp up their capacity to produce them. June 15th is going to be a very influential date in our sector’s calendar.

But if you’re not happy with how this has all landed, no matter what side of the fence you’re on, the one thing we can all agree on is that the way we have handled this, discussed it, approached the subject with Government, has been woeful from the beginning.

Once again, the politics, the egos, the personalities and the lobbying have meant that the industry approached the matter split. A diminished and weakened voice in front of Government, which I have been informed left civil servants with a less than impressed view of us. It’s worth noting that they already had a dim view of UK fenestration as it is.

I don’t think anyone could genuinely claim that our sector’s handling of the revisions to Building Regulations, especially ventilation, has been done with much a degree of professionalism. Even from the start, when the consultation period was open, I saw very little enthusiasm for everyone to get involved and have their say. These were rule changes that were going to affect how we do our business. Yet, as is the norm, apathy was the order of the day and there was no great flood of responses that could have influenced and educated the right people higher up in power. As I am constantly reminded, when a group can speak and act as one on a single issue, that voice is amplified and influence and power enhanced.

Some companies up and down the supply chain are now trying to prep their clients on what the new rules mean and how to prepare for them. But the reality is that this week we enter March. Three months from the start of the new Building Regulations. We have lead times at the installer level still at three to four months. This is leaving very little time for a significant part of the supply chain to be ready. This is going to be a very stressful period in the run-up to the new implementation date. There is much room for improvement when you look back at the communication of these updates.

Our industry has also not done a good enough job to talk to itself about these changes and how best to integrate them. For example, a huge swathe of the installer community remains against trickle vents. Has there been a genuine effort to talk to installers, explain the changes, what will change in practical terms and perhaps try to at least assuage some of their reluctance? Not really. I’ve seen comments like “we just need to get on with it” and “time to embrace the benefits”. Mainly from makers of vents. Dialogue like that will convince no one, especially when it comes from corners of the sector that are set to benefit the most. We have had a significant period of time to shed good light on this, yet, as always, apathy prevails.

Yet, in a bizarre way, I have witnessed more energy and anger around trickle vents compared to many other more pressing and arguably serious issues. Never have I seen this much effort put towards problems such as the youth and skills crisis. Something that will have a far more aggressive effect on us in the years to come. Or on sustainability, which plays a crucial role in our existence on this planet. Yet, a plastic vent that sits on top of a window, made for a few quid per unit has managed to get everyone suitably riled up. Madness.

A lesson to be learned

We are beyond the point of debate and discussion about what should and shouldn’t be within the new Building Regs documents. We are beyond what we think homeowners should be allowed or not allowed to do, or what choices they have. The fact of the matter is that the regulations are here, suppliers are moving to adapt to them and guidance is going to come from a number of trade bodies in the coming days and weeks advising their members on how best to comply with them.

What this is, however, is a lesson to be learned. As an industry, we have to become more alert to changes and ditch the apathy and resistance to change. Whether we like it or not, there are forces beyond our control that will influence our sector. In this case, the Government and Building Regulation changes. Had we been able to act as one, to put aside the petty politics and self-interests, to go to the Government as one voice to inform, educate and persuade, perhaps the outcome could have been nudged in a different direction.

As it is, we didn’t. But there will be further changes to Building Regulations in the years to come. There is a slim chance that we can learn from our inadequate actions this time around and ensure full and energetic participation in any new consultations and debates when the opportunity arises. Failure to learn from mistakes leaves us unqualified to complain about the results of future changes.

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