Out with the old...

12 October 2011

Tearing up the Building Regs shouldn't be this hard

Changes to the Building Regulations and Building Control are afoot. 

Paul Everall explains what they mean for construction firms.

The next few months might be an interesting time for those who work in Building Control departments in England and Wales, and for all those regulated by them. First of all, the government has announced its intention to launch a new “red tape challenge” on construction, to see what regulations might be removed or which might have their effect diminished.

More specifically, a consultation paper is set to be issued in December covering not only further proposed amendments to the Building Regulations themselves, but also changes to the Building Control system. What can we hope or expect to see in this paper?

It needs to be remembered that the primary duty of compliance with Building Regulations rests not with the Building Control surveyor, but with those responsible for carrying out the building work — the client, architect and contractor.

The construction manager has an important role to play in ensuring compliance, and therefore needs to be fully aware of the requirements of the regulations. They need to be constantly on the lookout for where deviations might be occurring, and as we move closer towards zero carbon it will be particularly important that one product is not substituted for another without assessing the effect on compliance. There is concern that as-built performance can be significantly worse than the designer intended, partly because of the substitution of inferior materials.

With regard to possible changes to Building Regulations affecting England (the Welsh Assembly Government takes responsibility for Building Regulations in the Principality from 31 December 2011) I anticipate that these might include:

To assist in the first of these, early in 2011 the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) established four working groups under the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC) to consider what might sensibly be done in 2013 and what might be left to 2016. These groups covered domestic new-build, non-domestic new build, compliance and improvements to the existing stock.

The latter group also looked at the interaction with the Green Deal, the government’s ambitious policy to enable energy efficiency improvements to be carried out to homes and other buildings at no up-front cost, and which is due to come into effect in October 2012.

Turning to improvements to the existing Building Control system, it seems likely that the government will want to ensure current best practice by Building Control bodies is required from all. Risk-based assessment will become the norm, so that developers will agree a service plan with Building Control before work starts and scarce inspection resources will be aimed at those builders seen as less likely to comply and at those times when serious breaches of Building Regulations are most likely to be evident. The outdated system of statutory notifications is likely to be scrapped — except at commencement and completion of the work — and the issue of completion certificates made mandatory.

There is also likely to be continued emphasis on ensuring compliance. LABC believes that the best way of achieving this is by the Building Control surveyor working closely with the architect and builder to identify issues on the plans as submitted and discussing issues as they arise on site.

However, there will always be a few who are determined to flout the law, and at present the enforcement powers available to local authorities are somewhat limited, and may lead to clients being prosecuted and the work not put right. We are hopeful, therefore, that the government might consult on giving councils additional powers such as being able to issue stop notices when serious breaches are spotted and to issue on-the-spot fines, which might concentrate the minds of some persistent offenders.

One measure LABC would like to see is some restriction on the use of building notices (where no plans are submitted in advance of work starting), but this may not be proposed by the government.

Challenging times may lie ahead. I hope that you individually, and the CIOB collectively, will work with LABC to improve both the Building Control system and the Building Regulations to ensure they are fit for purpose.

Paul Everall is chief executive of the LABC

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