Monday, May 18, 2009

Meeting Building Control over Tiverton House

We did meet the Council Building Control officer last week to discuss building control. In the event, although we couldn't discuss the specifics of Tiverton House, it was still useful.

Where there is a 'material change of use', building control regulations apply in all the following areas:

B1 (means of warning and escape) 
B2 (internal fire spread - linings) 
B3 (internal fire spread - structure) 
B4(2) (external fire spread - roofs) 
B5 (access and facilities for the fire service) 
C2(c) (interstitial and surface condensation) 
F1 and F2 (ventilation) 
G1 (sanitary conveniences and washing facilities) 
G2 (bathrooms) 
H1 (foul water drainage) 
H6 (solid waste storage) 
J1 to J3 (combustion appliances) 
L1 (conservation of fuel and power) -dwellings 
L2 (conservation of fuel and power – buildings other than dwellings) 
P1 and P2 (electrical safety) 

Many of which could be relevant for the proposed conversion of Tiverton House into student accommodation. 

There are however two problems - firstly, depending on how the work is done, there may not be a material change of use in building control terms - we will be monitoring carefully what happens here.

However, perhaps more importantly, under the building control regulations, the new owners of Tiverton House can and have used external approved building controllers rather than the Council's own building inspectors. As a result, the building controllers only have to deposit with the Council formal notices such as an initial notice that works are about to start, and a notice indicating compliance at the end.

To make it clear, there is nothing to say the developer or building controller will do anything other than apply the building control rules correctly and comply with them, but if they don't, the options to challenge this for a member of the public appear to be limited to say the least. 

The Approved Inspector scheme is run by the Construction Industry Council, so you would need to go through their published complaints procedure (if you thought building control regulations hadn't been applied properly). Trouble is, it is hard to see how you would know the regulations hadn't been applied correctly, as none of the plans are public (in the absence of a planning application...), nor do the public have significant means of redress in this case.

In conclusion, building control doesn't sound like an effective approach to regulating the development on the site - that is what the planning system if for, but we haven't given up on this line of enquiry, and it did open up one or two others...


NickW said...

If these external inspectors are anything like the NHBC inspectors the sign off will not be worth the paper it is written on.

NHBC certificates = Andrex.

I would have more confidence in the Council's Building Control Department if the Inspectors are allowed to do their jobs properly - which is questionable at CAmbridge City

Chris Howell said...

To be fair Nick, I think a lot of the problem here is that when developers chose to use a non-Council building controller, members of the public have very little scope to challenge or review that work, so there would be a tension here if Council building controller were seen to be 'harsh' or 'over-cautious' they wouldn't get any work. That's not to say allowing developers to chose is a bad thing, its just that the regulation and transparency of the process needs to be much greater for this to work.

NickW said...

Building Control is a set of statutory requirements that outline minimum standards that are determined by Govt. It is not something that the public as such have ever had a say on other than through the ballot box.

Planning is where the public have some influence because they can lobby Councillors although as you know the decision making process is guided by statutory guidance - planning policy documents.

My first hand experience of NHBC is born first hand. Years I ago I undertook a project (circa 1998) to look at accoustic insulation in new builds - none of them met the statutory minimum statndards. Is it any wonder that noise complaints in new build flats are so common.

Thermal insulation, cement mixes, drainage (another timebomb ticking away under our streets) all shoddy and substandard.

Even if we built our houses properly it would still be to a standard the Germans and Scandinavians were using in the 1970's

The problem is that there is no effective regulation of NHBC or other equivalent organisations. As such external sign offs are just a rubber stamping exercise.

I wouldnt touch a new build with a barge pole - better to buy something 20 years old and see what happens.

Chris Howell said...

I think you've hit the nail on head in terms of the Tiverton House issue - planning is where the public really get a say, but we fear that only small parts of the overall scheme will need to go through planning. Building control appears to be almost completely outside public scrutiny, despite its important regulatory nature.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately competition was introduced into building control by Michael Heseltine many years ago. Its still the only regulatory service subject to competition. will you be lobbying for a future Conservative government to undo this?

Anonymous said...

The ability for private inspectors to certify approval under the building regulations is a national disgrace
The public would be appalled to know that a major public building has no meaningful independent checks
When the developer chooses his inspector and the developer wants to build down to a price we finish up with sub standard and potentially dangerous buildings - will it take a disaster before Politians consider that enforcement of building standards should be truly independent and in the public and not developers interest?