Take Notice

  • Building Design Expert
  • 4 years ago

Take Notice

A client recently enquired “…what can you build under a ‘Building Notice’?” I responded “Pretty much anything you want”. He was a domestic client, a householder, and I know at the back of his mind were thoughts dodging and diving, conniving, to beat this system, and do it the way he thought would be okay, but not necessarily in full accordance with the letter of the the law.

Lets be clear on this. The Building Regulations are an integral part of the Building Act – The last amendment to which was in 2011. The Building Act – an act of parliament. Consequently, you contravene the Building Regulations; you break the law. Ouch – you don’t want to do that!! But we break the law every day, when we drive at 35 in a 30mph zone, photocopying a recipe from a book to share with a friend, and yes even singing ‘Happy Birthday to you’ in public. The first one could arguably be life threatening, but c’mon Warner!! Okay, yes it’s technically your copyright, but ……

The Building Notice is one of three application types available under the Building Regulations. The other two being ‘Full Plans’ and the relatively little used ‘Regularisation’ application. The latter is used where work has been done that should be building regulation compliant, but for some reason either a full plans, or building notice application got missed off the list of things to do. Building Control are at liberty to go back and ask for work to be uncovered to prove compliance with the building regulations. So if you are going to need to prove compliance, best to do it right in the first place.

What can you Not do under a ‘Building Notice’?

The world is your oyster to a large extent, unless you need to comply with the Fire Precautions Act/Regulations. Build close to, or over a surface/foul water sewer. Or, where a new building may front onto a private street. So in construction terms the ‘Building Notice’ is a ‘car-crash’ of an application just waiting to happen.

Build and Design

I have heard contractors flippantly referring to a project that they believe perhaps started off on the wrong track, or there have been so many design changes along the way, that they have become the designers on site. Hence – ‘build and design’. And of course the Building Notice, by definition, is the epitome of B and D; or as it might be commonly known to the man on the street – ‘make it up as you go along’.

Any design professional (me included) would always, always advise that whatever you are planning to build, you must always, always have a drawing that shows the finished product, and works out the route to get there. On this basis the back of a fag packet is better than nothing at all. Nothing at all is courting at best – problems, at worst – disaster.

Why the Building Notice?

Why indeed. In case you haven’t twigged, I am not a big fan. The planning portal describes the use of building notices as a way of getting work underway quickly, making the point that it is best suited to small work.

Whilst it may be best suited to small work, there is no rule that requires it to be limited in this way. Want to build a house? – No problem. Retrieve that pack of 20 from the bin, sketch out your idea, and start digging.

In our defence

Let’s be clear, Building Control don’t write the rules they just implement and try their best to police them. The Building Regulations Approved Documents outline the minimum standards to which we must construct our buildings. The government would really like us to do better than the minimum, particularly with regard to energy efficiency standards. But the thrust of the argument is not that Building Control are construction police, but the responsibility lies with the overall professionalism of designers and contractors to ensure compliance. The only problem with that is when it will be a far quicker, and more cost effective solution to cut across the corner, rather than walk the full right angle.

Building Control officers, and Approved Inspectors, cannot and do not inspect every key aspect of the build. The inspection fees paid to them will never fund that level of service. So an unnerving amount of work gets built and covered up between one inspection stage and the next – Fact. We go back to reliance on professionalism. You may therefore conclude that we have a very naive system that enforces our building regulations.

Ignorance of the law is no defence

A Building Notice application would be ideally suited to re-roofing a property. Yes, just replacing the roof covering is an act that will require approval under Approved Document L with regard to upgrading a thermal element to meet current insulation standards. There are many contractors, and roofing sub-contractors that are aware of this requirement by now, I am sure. There are still those that consider the building regulations to be someone else’s problem. But it would be an interesting statistic to pin down concerning how many ‘re-roofs’ have included any sort of building regulations application, and included a major insulation upgrade as part of the work. What’s your guess? Mmmm, mine too.

There are plenty of Building Notice applications made every year. Anything more than a toilet installation could present all sorts of design issues that are resolved on site by those not trained to think ‘Design’. For that reason alone this system is fraught with danger, and needs to be readdressed by government. A simple cost limit of say £2,000 for the contract cost of any work that is governed under the building regulations would not only radically limit the scope of a building notice, but also the amount of ‘unauthorised’ work that creeps under the bar.

The Building Notice application system performs a useful and valuable function. However, at times it assumes too much of contractors, and has overreached its elastic limit, the consequences of which will not always be able to be undone.