Building Regulations Plan for Inspection

  • Building Design Expert
  • 4 years ago

I recall vividly when I started in this industry, that in submitting an application under the Building Regulations you were unwittingly entering into a state run adversarial system. Stories abounded as to how building control officers would spend their ivory tower days just thinking up new ways to catch you out. Bearing in mind they did not have to think too hard as this was pre the Building Act 1984 and the regs then were not as complex as some of those in force today; Part L for example. Whether those stories were true or not, the fact remains that today’s building control service is a moonshot distant from their monopolistic days of the 70’s and early 1980’s.

The 1984 advent of the ‘Approved Inspector’ option effectively side-stepped building control, signalling an alarm call for building control officers across the land. At the same time proving to be a shot in the arm for all of us. The new system provided competition from private companies who needed to return a profit. In achieving this they introduced elements such as ‘customer service’ and a pro-active approach to pre-application advice and assistance. Like anything new in the construction industry, it did not take off straight away, but it started to close the door on the ‘kick ass’ system that previously dominated.

From the Building Control and Approved Inspectors perspectives, until recently, monitoring of site operations involved a nine point process that was a one size prescription that fitted nothing particularly well. They would come to site to inspect foundations, then DPC/DPM, drains, external walls, etc. Sure this was flexible to a degree, but with each trying to undercut the other, inspections tended to carry a minimalist ticket.

6 April 2013 saw the introduction of a number of minor alterations to most of the Building Regulations Approved Documents, with more significant amendments to Parts B, L and M. Parts K and P were totally republished in a new format, promoted as generally more understandable, and to which all Approved Documents will ultimately aspire. But the Building Regulations are constantly updated and changed; sometimes for the better, and sometimes we really wonder why they bothered. There hasn’t been too much of a performance over one of the new publications though. It comes as a trilogy under the umbrella title of ‘LABC Inspection Service Plans’ to serve the Domestic market, House builders, and Commercial construction projects.

In fairness to LABC, many authorities realised many years ago that if customer service was what the Approved Inspectors were providing, they would need to take a sharp intake of breath and provide the same thing too. Therefore what they have been doing to an extent for some years has just been formalised in the new publications, and indeed maybe taken trust that little bit further.

The new Inspection Service Plans will take account of:

* The type of construction proposed

* The size and complexity of the project / scheme

* Risks to compliance with the building regulations

* The contractors experience and the site management arrangements

* Ground conditions

In addition they ask that you operate a more ‘Building Control – inclusive’ site management strategy, suggesting invitations to pre-start meetings, providing details of project and site quality control, and sharing of design data such as site levels and drainage information. In fact, information that any self respecting project and site management team should be sharing anyway. So what’s new? The new part is that under Regulation 16 of the Building Regulations, LABC are quite within their rights to vary their inspection regime in line with a risk assessment based upon the above inspection service plan criteria. This will provide a more bespoke service that may be more, or less analytical. Consequentially this will generate variable inspection plan fees based upon the degree of detail submitted at application stage, and the perceived capability of the contractor’s site management team. What they don’t say is quite how they are going to calculate these fees. There was a time when one might visualise an open plan office full of building control officers holding up wetted fingers in order to make such a calculation. Of course each local authority is now autonomous in setting their fees, and my enquiries reveal that fee discounts on the current scales will depend upon prior assessment of the contractor involved. So if the contractor cannot provide a track record it gets more costly for the client; – now there’s a lesson.

Disappointingly, the opportunity to divest the industry of the ‘build and design’ opportunities presented by the ‘Building Notice’ has once again slipped by, as it remains a firm option in the ISP. Apart from projects where the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies; this remains a gaping hole in the system. LABC may dance around it by saying they will carry out more inspections, but as long as this system extends to anything more than a toilet installation, it provides a licence for poor and ill thought through design. Whilst construction may be building regulation compliant, this is no guarantee against workmanship, or performance.

The impact of LABC inspection service plans I think will be minimal. At best they are just a tidying up of what they have tried to make their critical path over the past twenty odd years. The building regulations and their implementation remain an imperfect system, underlining the need for chartered professionals with the extensive design capacity of say an Architectural Technologist to interpret and use therm to best advantage.