Building standards compliance and enforcement review: report

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

Brief Synopsis Of Building Standards Issues

18. Evidence would suggest that, since the introduction of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003, the focus of Building Standards resources has been primarily applied to the approving of design documentation as being compliant with the building regulations and the subsequent granting of building warrants.

19. There would appear to be less application of verifiers’ resources on ensuring that new buildings are actually being built in full compliance with the approved design documentation on the basis of which the warrant was issued. The numerous buildings across Scotland which, subsequent to the issue of the Edinburgh Schools report, have been found to contain serious non-compliant construction defects is evidence of weaknesses in the implementation of the current system to ensure the safety of our new buildings.

20. It is clearly the legal responsibility for the building owner or developer to comply with the Building Regulations and it should be expected of them to have appropriately expert inspection during the course of the construction. However, as has unfortunately been shown, it is insufficient for Building Standards services to rely on the signing of a completion certificate by the owner / developer as confirmation of compliance. Appointed verifiers must act in the public interest by undertaking “reasonable inquiry” through a combination of undertaking sufficient inspections and requiring proof of independent certification of elements of the construction so as to reasonably ensure that buildings comply with the Building Standards.

21. The significant resource applied to the approval of design drawings and specifications is rendered superfluous if the building is not built in accordance with the approved documents thereby undermining the fundamental purpose of the regulations to ensure safe efficient functional buildings.

22. While Building Standards certification of design schemes (currently they exist for structure and energy) will tend to ensure the involvement of adequately competent professional designers in the design process, there is no requirement for the continued involvement of professionally qualified designers in the process of inspecting and confirming that buildings are constructed in accordance with their approved designs.

23. There has been an increased adoption, particularly by public sector bodies, of procurement methods in which the design team are employed by contractors and which enables contractors to determine the nature and level of involvement or otherwise of the qualified design professionals in the inspection and checking of the compliance of those contractors’ work on-site. Perhaps not surprisingly this element of service, which used to be a standard part of a design team’s role, is frequently drastically reduced or even not required at all by employing contractors.

24. Such appointments of design teams frequently contain confidentiality clauses whereby the professional design team are prevented from conveying concerns to the actual client for the project as to defective construction quality or changes from the approved design that they have observed and reported to the contractor. These arrangements have resulted in the situation where there is often limited independent professional oversight by the actual designers of the buildings of the detailed construction of projects and their compliance with Building Standards.

25. This reduced level of involvement of design team members during construction has been coupled with a significant reduction by public and private bodies in the employment of clerks of works acting on behalf of the client body. This trend has in turn led to a reduction in the availability of experienced qualified clerks of work to the industry as a whole.

26. Evidence from several recent inquiries indicate that currently it would be inappropriate to assume that contractors’ quality assurance processes and self-certification can be fully relied on or alone can provide the necessary assurance as to compliance with the regulations or with the approved warrant drawings. The failure by some contractors to address defective construction can arise from the natural conflicts of interest for contractors in condemning aspects of their own construction work, as to do so may lead to additional costs of both the necessary remedial work and of any resultant delay to completion for the contractor involved.

27. Simultaneously evidence would indicate that there is a problem in relation to the limited availability of skilled tradesmen in key trades in the construction industry often resulting in the employment of workers without the requisite skills leading to poor quality, non-safe and non-compliant construction.

28. Over the same period as these issues have come to the fore, Local Authorities appear to have been steadily reducing the number of construction-related professionals they employ to manage such projects, thereby reducing their ability as intelligent customers to adequately specify and ensure delivery of the quality of construction in their projects.

29. The combination of these factors has contributed to a situation in which public confidence in the quality and safety of our buildings has been severely dented. It was simply a matter of fortuitous luck and timing that the collapse of external walls at five schools across Scotland in the last few years, (four largely unreported collapses preceded the collapse at Oxgangs School), did not lead to multiple fatalities or major injuries to school children.

30. Early technical reports on the horrific Grenfell Tower tragedy have indicated that amongst a range of contributory failures was inadequate and non-compliant installation of fire-stopping, a quality problem that is now recognised as widespread throughout the industry in the United Kingdom, including Scotland.

31. Such regular failures within our Construction Industry must not be allowed to continue and while the core responsibility mostly lies with Industry, and to a lesser but still important degree with its clients, Government has a responsibility to ensure that weaknesses in the current implementation of the Building Standards system in Scotland in relation to failures to enforce procedural and site compliance are properly addressed.

32. Two further key areas that need to be addressed are (1) the reported delays sometimes caused to major projects in Scotland due to unacceptable lengths of time being taken by verifiers to deal with applications and (2) a perceived lack of consistency across Scotland in the approach taken by different verifiers in relation to their approval of projects.


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