The Building Code turns the Senate upside down with Hugo de Jong

The Building Code turns the Senate upside down with Hugo de Jong

“Out of the Office,” can be read on Hugo de Jonge’s white cycling socks. in Happy Instagram video The outgoing Minister of Housing (CDA) moves from his desk to the elevator, smiling broadly, as he looks back and gives a thumbs up. The message: I’m going on a carefree vacation.

Senators think about it very differently. Last week, a row arose between the Senate and de Jonge over the introduction of part of the environmental law. Since De Jonge refused to implement a proposal by, among others, Ferd Crone (PvdA-GroenLinks), the senators have been pondering follow-up questions and a possible post-recess debate.

At stake is the implementation history of the Quality Assurance of Building Act (Wkb); As part of the Environment and Planning Act, this will take effect on January 1, 2024. Last week, a majority of the Senate voted in favor of a motion to put the actual date on hold.

He said in a letter on Monday that de Jong did not intend to carry out the proposal. According to the Minister, the Wkb is so intertwined with the Environment and Planning Act that it will not function properly if it does not come into force at the same time.

Senator Crone, along with fellow BBB member Eric Kemperman, took the lead on the motion. It bothers him that De Jonge, as outgoing minister, is ignoring a proposal from the Senate. We can no longer turn him away, because he is already gone. But that doesn’t make him any less responsible.

Viability concerns

This is not the first time that the environment and planning law in particular has caused turmoil in the Senate. The law brings together all legislation in the field of spatial planning and environmental permits. This should simplify matters related to spatial planning, but fear of legal inequality and problems with ICT during testing made the Senate wary.

After five delays, the Senate finally approved the application in March this year, starting next January 1.

The WKB states that supervision of construction quality will be the responsibility of market parties rather than municipalities. When building small offices and homes that require a permit, the construction work must be supervised from next year by a “Quality Assurance Officer” – an outside company who is appointed by the person applying for the permit. It should ensure better construction quality, lower costs for failed construction projects, and a stronger consumer position in the construction industry.

But the Senate has concerns, for example, there are doubts about whether there are enough quality assurance officers to evaluate all construction projects. After all, without a guarantor, the construction project cannot start soon, which may cause further delays in housing construction. There are also concerns that outsourcing will make construction more expensive.

There are also legal concerns. For example, quality assurance officers must reject buildings if they do not fully meet building standards. For example, if the ceiling of a bathroom is five centimeters too low, according to Wkb, the building must be raised until it is just right – with all the costs associated with that. The municipality can still decide to tolerate this, but a policy has not yet been established for this. Hence, more legal uncertainty, which raises the question of whether insurers are still willing to take the risk of renewals, Kron says. The minister said that this will be worked on in October. That seems very short notice to me, because it’s not clear if they’ll be ready in October.”

In his explanatory letter, De Jonge argues that there will certainly be enough QA officers, and the demand for their services will certainly increase—and in no case will this delay lead to more QA officers.

But de Jonge cannot ignore the Senate’s criticism. Certainly not now that the coalition has fewer seats than it did since the election a few months ago. And since the two largest opposing blocs, the BBB and the Joint List of PvdA and GroenLinks, have united.

Earlier, the two groups announced their desire to work together in the House of Representatives to demand higher wages and more money to reduce poverty.

Environmental deferral law?

But this is not Jung’s only problem. As the actual date of Wkb is under discussion, the implementation of the entire Environment and Planning Act is also under pressure.

Where the opinion of Kajsa Olongren (D66), de Jonge’s predecessor as minister in the housing file, was that the Environment and Planning Law could also come into force without the Quality Assurance Law, according to de Jonge, that’s a different story now.

Read also: A major change in the law could delay farmers’ expropriation

According to De Jonge, the Wkb is already so “intertwined” with the digital part of the environment and planning law that implementation problems arise if the laws do not come into force at the same time. In a speech to the Senate on Friday, de Jonge described the environmental law as a “construction” from which the stone cannot simply be removed, not even temporarily. According to the minister, the other rules are “metaphorically hanging in the air” and are “unreadable and therefore useless”.

If the Senate and De Jonge stand their ground, another delay to the environment and planning law cannot be ruled out.

The Environment and Planning Act was supposed to come into effect in 2019, but that will now be 2024. In the meantime, municipalities and construction companies are waiting for the introduction of the Wkb, which has moved along with the numerous postponements of the Environment and Planning Act.

Bouwend Nederland has never been a fan of Wkb. The trade association shares Senate concerns about the number of quality assurance officers available and potential cost increases. But since the Environment Act was brought into force by Parliament, the trade union has taken a pragmatic stance: if the law does come into force, builders need to know where they stand and what they need to be prepared for. “The lack of clarity for our members is very disturbing. They have been preparing for months for the introduction of the law, and what the introduction of January 1 will mean for them,” says lawyer Rena Ottenbogaard from Bwind Nederland. Another delay would add to this ambiguity.

An important addition is that, as far as Bovend Nederland is concerned, the law should initially apply only to new construction and not to renovations either, so that construction companies have more time to get used to it. “We call for the introduction of the law in stages.” Municipalities want the law applied immediately to both renovations and new construction—after all, exceptions mean additional rules.

MP Crone says he is disappointed with de Jonge’s stance. “He is now taking a big risk: This law could go wrong from January 1 because there is still a lot of legal uncertainty for consumers and the construction sector.”

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