Building standards compliance and enforcement review: report

Professor Cole's report on the review of building standards compliance and enforcement in Scotland.


1. This report has been prepared by the Chair of the Panel undertaking the Review of Building Standards Compliance and Enforcement in Scotland. It provides a brief description of the issues that gave rise to this review and presents a synopsis of those aspects of the current system which the Panel considered required improvement together with a series of suggestions or proposals as to how these issues could be addressed. It is intended to provide a basis for the recommendations that will be taken forward in a Scottish Government consultation paper to allow the Construction Industry, Local Authorities and the public to comment and provide further evidence.

2. In January 2016 the brick outer wall of Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh collapsed during a storm. Further investigations of a number of Edinburgh schools built at the same time revealed that the principal cause of the collapse was the incorrect installation of wall ties reducing the structural capacity of the walls and their ability to resist the forces on the walls in periods of high winds.

3. Information provided by Scottish Local Authorities to the subsequent Independent Inquiry (The Independent Inquiry into the Construction of Schools in Edinburgh published in February 2017 chaired by Professor John Cole) identified the fact that similar defects had been found on a significant number of recently built schools across Scotland. Subsequent to the Independent Inquiry recommending the undertaking of risk-based assessments and investigations of all building types using similar construction to the Edinburgh schools, numerous other school and non-school buildings across Scotland have been found to suffer from the same defective masonry construction.

4. In the case of the Edinburgh Schools the Independent Inquiry also revealed that widespread defective installation of fire-stopping had been discovered across the schools investigated.

5. The Report of the Independent Inquiry concluded that while these issues were primarily failures of the construction industry, they also represented non-compliance with the requirements of the Scottish Building Standards and were of a nature which could seriously compromise the safety of building users.

6. The Grenfell Tower tragedy of June 2017, in which 72 people died, was unprecedented in recent times in the UK. Whilst the Inquiry into this tragedy, chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is still on-going, it is clear that it will also address issues of non-compliance with building regulations.

7. In Scotland, following the Grenfell Tower fire, a Ministerial Working Group into Building and Fire Safety was set up by Scottish Ministers. The Ministerial Working Group established two Review Panels; one on Building Standards (Fire Safety) in Scotland chaired by Dr Paul Stollard; and one on Compliance and Enforcement of the Building Standards, which Professor John Cole was invited to chair. This Report addresses the work of the latter.

8. Since the Panel first met two further reports have been published that provide more background on the issues related to Compliance and Enforcement.

9. An Independent Inquiry was held into the major construction defects leading to the enforced closure and part demolition of DG One, a large leisure facility in Dumfries. The Report of this Inquiry, published in April 2018, identified, in addition to a range of other defects, the widespread presence in the Dumfries building of the same two major safety-related defects found in the Edinburgh schools; defective masonry construction and widespread missing or inadequately installed fire-stopping.

10. In May 2018, Dame Judith Hackitt’s Report into the Building Regulation system in England was published. The Report sets out recommendations around the design, construction, operation and maintenance of high rise residential buildings. The Hackitt Report concluded that the system in England was broken and that a complete overhaul of the regulations, guidance and compliance processes was required.

11. The Review Panel on Compliance and Enforcement in Scotland concluded that the Scottish system is not broken but that evidence clearly shows there is a need to strengthen compliance both in relation to statutory procedural requirements and in addressing non-compliant work on site. It also concluded that the approach to enforcement where non-compliance has been observed, as currently practiced by verifiers, does not appear to be effective and that enforcement needs to be more strongly implemented by Local Authorities.

12. New development and refurbishment are integral to the health and wealth of the nation and it is important that the Building Standards system operates well. The construction of new homes, public buildings and commercial properties is a major driver of economic growth. The important contribution that the building industry can make to wider outcomes such as improved health, educational attainment and the development of sustainable communities is also gaining stronger recognition. A properly functioning Building Standards system that is efficient in its operation as well as upholding standards that are fit for purpose is therefore of vital importance to the development of Scotland’s towns, cities and rural areas, and for the safety of its people.

13. A proper understanding and implementation of the roles and responsibilities of verifiers and developers are key to delivering a properly functioning system.

14. The current system in Scotland has much to commend it, in particular the pre-emptive aspect of obtaining a building warrant prior to starting on site. The benefits of this element of the Scottish approach has been recognised in the recently published Hackitt Report on Building Standards in England, which recommended the adoption of the Scottish pre-emptive approach for use in the case of high rise residential buildings and other higher risk developments.

15. Despite the recognised benefits of the current system in Scotland, recent evidence has indicated that there are issues that need to be addressed, particularly in relation to how effectively the system is actually implemented. The Review Panel have concluded that, whilst simultaneously maintaining the core elements of the system, some reshaping would be advised to ensure that it addresses the identified weaknesses. The focus of this reshaping is to improve aspects of the current system and its implementation, not to fundamentally change the system.

16. There is a need for a culture change within the Building Standards system, which requires both verifiers and applicants to fully understand and deliver on their responsibilities. Culture change can be achieved through education and training of individuals that enables them to do their work effectively, but it is also necessary to have corporate commitment to change. A common goal of compliance with the Building Standards should be a requisite of any project.

Report Prepared by:
Professor John Cole CBE

Building Standards Division
Directorate for Local Government and Communities
The Scottish Government
Denholm House
Almondvale Business Park

EH54 6GA
Tel: 0300 244 4000

Applications for reproduction of any part of this publication should be directed to Building Standards Division at the above address.


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