The UK’s decision to leave the EU next year has brought uncertainty to the UK and is a process that will undoubtedly affect us all. It may change the ways that we operate and could bring many opportunities. But how will it affect the construction industry and its regulations?
On 12th July, the UK government released its Whitepaper on ‘the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union’, which outlines its vision for our future with the EU based on an economic partnership and a number of governance devices. Shortly afterwards, on 17th July, Parliament narrowly voted to an adjustment on a revised trade bill that would have ensured the UK government agreed to a focus of establishing a free trade area for goods with the EU or enter into a customs union as a last resort.
But, what has been happening recently within the construction industry in the UK?
Dip in first quarter due to other factors
There was a significant dip in the first quarter of 2018 with construction activity down by around £1.5bn compared to the final quarter of last year, according to the Construction Products Association.
Brexit was not the only factor. The collapse of Carillion has also had a significant impact and, therefore, most analysts are predicting a more or less flat market for the rest of this year, although with a sizeable 15% dip in new office building work compared with last year.
Bouncing back next year
However, the market should bounce back strongly next year. The CPA is predicting 2.7% overall growth in 2019, thanks largely to a surge in infrastructure investment as some of the UK’s big projects start to accelerate and this will feed through to building services.
There are also other reasons to be optimistic. If Brexit does close some doors it will, undoubtedly, open others. As with any period of economic change, our relative success will be as much to do with our own efforts and ability to adapt – and those of us running companies that provide specialised services for buildings need to be ready and flexible.
Will fire safety regulations be impacted?
The truth, at least initially, not at all. Due to the nature and importance of fire safety regulations, there is no likely reason why this should change as a result of Brexit.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 outlines set standards for England and Wales. They are a part of UK legislation and thus, are not linked to EU laws or regulations. In fact, the UK is one of the global leaders for fire safety and will strive to continue its position following Brexit.
The British Standards Institution (BSI) has also stated that it is their ambition, and confident expectation, for the UK to continue to participate in the creation and improving with building standards through CEN and CENELEC.
BSI has worked heavily with the UK government since the referendum, educating, advising and encouraging support for our industry’s position on Brexit and standards. BSI will continue to provide, post-Brexit, the standards-developing framework that its stakeholders need to trade nationally, in Europe and internationally. In order for this to be achieved, BSI will continue as a member of ISO, IEC, CEN and CENELEC, continuing to contribute towards the development of international and European standards.
Throughout the EU, regulations vary greatly among the Member States and therefore, Brexit should have no impact on the UK’s fire safety.
Will EN standards still be important?
As acknowledged, the UK will continue to be a full member of the European standards bodies and so will continue to adopt European normalised standards as national standards. Leaving the EU will not affect the process of EN standards as this standard body is completely independent of EU laws.
But, what about CE marking?
CE marking shows that a product has been manufactured according to the defined legal requirements of the EU. They are required for products which are sold within the European Economic Area.
Therefore, all CE rules will continue to apply until the UK has formally left the single market. After this, the UK may still continue to be a part of the European Economic Area (EEA) if they can join the agreement of 1994 which gave Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein permission to trade in the EU without needing membership. There are also other countries outside of the EEA – Turkey and Iceland – where CE marking applies to certain product groups.
In addition, as the majority of the detailed design measures for CE marked products come from standards, there should be little change to how fire safety equipment is certified. There will always be a need for UK legislation to retain the high standard of fire safety equipment and since CE marking has been approved for at least 20 more years throughout Europe, it is likely that the UK will be able to choose to continue to use this system to ensure we maintain product safety.
Life after Brexit
The UK has played a significant part in EU regulations and it will not want to see this work undone when it formally leaves the EU. Instead of Brexit reducing the level of regulations and standards we have in the UK, it is instead a good opportunity to review, act and improve on our practices.