Building standards compliance and enforcement review: report
Professor Cole's report on the review of building standards compliance and enforcement in Scotland.
Conclusions And Recommendations
136. The Review Panel have concluded that, whilst the core elements of the current system should be maintained, some reshaping of the system is necessary to ensure that it addresses the identified weaknesses. The focus of this reshaping should be to improve aspects of the current system and its implementation, not to fundamentally change the system.
137. The principal concern of the Review Panel was the need for a rebalancing of the focus of Building Standards resources from checking compliance of design intent towards checking compliance of the actual construction of buildings and in doing so to focus resources on those buildings in which non-compliance with the regulations would present most risk to the population.
138. It was felt that this would require a differentiation by verifiers of their approach to larger, more complex, higher risk buildings, which represented approximately twenty per cent of applications and smaller less complex buildings in terms of the levels of information required from developers and the nature and level of on-site inspections required to be undertaken. The defining of these two main categories should be the starting point for a reshaping of the system.
139. It was also recognised that due to the limitations on the number and level of detailed inspections that can practically be undertaken by Building Standards services, more onus must be placed on owners and developers to provide specific documented evidence to Building Standards services of their buildings having been constructed in compliance with the approved design warrants, particularly in relation to safety-related areas of construction such as fire protection and structural integrity.
140. In light of recent events in Scotland and England it was felt that immediate priority must be given by verifiers to strengthen their inspection regimes so as to address what would appear to be systemic defects across the industry in relation to frequent inadequacies in the construction of masonry walls and the installation of fire-stopping.
141. The Panel expressed concerns as to the current capacity and capability of the staff resource in terms of numbers and qualifications within Local Authorities to provide the required level of service. These concerns included the significant reduction in the number of staff over recent years, the number of staff in Building Standards services nearing retirement age and the difficulty being experienced in recruiting qualified staff to fill posts.
142. This lack of resource has no doubt contributed to recent problems including many reported failures to ensure that developers comply with the full procedural requirements of the legislation in relation to design warrants, amendments to warrants, notifications and completion certificates. The current approach to enforcement of compliance by Local Authorities was considered to a large degree to be ineffectual, potentially due to a lack of resources to address this issue and requires significant reinforcement.
143. The following is a summary of the recommendations offered for consideration by the Scottish Government:
- Support should be given to the efforts currently being made by LABSS to establish appropriate courses for the training and qualification of professional staff and the establishment of more attractive career pathways in Building Standards to assist in their recruitment.
- A review of current staffing numbers and qualifications in Building Standards services across Scotland should be undertaken to determine the level of additional investment in staff considered necessary to provide the required standard of service including response times.
- Further ways for verifiers to share expertise and staff resources should be examined, particularly in relation to the specialist and safety critical areas. This would include fire and structural engineering but could also extend to areas such as the energy design of complex buildings. Consideration should be given to the development of central hubs of expertise serving the whole system.
- A combination of an insufficient number of site inspections and an insufficient focus of the limited number of inspections on key safety-related areas have helped to contribute to a situation where non-compliance in these areas is frequently failing to be identified, resulting in potentially unsafe building environments. Early proactive action is required by Building Standards services to address this issue.
- In advance of the introduction of potentially more radical changes to the system, Building Standards services should immediately make it a requirement for the submission of digital photographic evidence of fire-stopping installations.
- There should be stronger engagement with the Fire Authority at key stages, particularly at completion before occupation or use. Also there would be benefit in reinstating the need for Building Fire Certificates on higher risk buildings as part of the Fire Authority engagement in the building sign-off processes.
- The roles and responsibilities of verifiers and applicants in relation to site inspection and testing should be reviewed. It must be made clear that it is the legal responsibility of clients for all buildings that will be occupied, used, worked in or visited by members of the public to ensure that these buildings are compliant with the regulations. This responsibility should include a requirement on the client and appointed agents to the client to provide Building Standards services with the necessary evidence to demonstrate compliance.
- There is a substantial opportunity for the greater use of digital technologies to share information between contractors and verifiers. Such data is now routinely collected by some larger contractors on projects for quality control purposes. Much of this data is relevant to compliance and can be part of the ‘Reasonable Inquiry’. The Scottish Government should promote such innovation and work with Industry and verifiers to develop the research, testing and development that is needed to develop platforms, protocols and certification systems to ensure that there is confidence in the data shared by all parties.
- There is a need to formally define what would be categorised for the purpose of the regulations as higher risk more complex buildings (the twenty per cent) to differentiate them from lower value and risk projects (the eighty per cent). The processes and information requirements for these buildings should be revised to reflect the higher levels of risk and potential impact of non-compliance in key areas of their construction.
- It is proposed for the higher risk more complex category of buildings that pre-warrant application discussions become a mandatory part of the requirements of projects. These pre-assessments should be used to develop comprehensive Compliance Plans addressing all proposed design and construction stages. It is suggested that the existing Construction Compliance Notification Plan ( CCNP) would be developed and tied in with a requirement for the production of agreed Construction Compliance Evidence Documentation ( CCED) from the contractor and a Contractor’s Inspection and Test Plan ( CITP). It is suggested that the approved warrant would not be issued until the Compliance Plan, CITP and CCED were in place and agreed, and the site start date notified.
- Consideration should be given to the introduction of a requirement for the licensing of contractors to demonstrate their competence to undertake specific categories and sizes of work. This requirement would be in addition to the proposed independent professional certification of the work of contractors.
- Consideration be given to the introduction of a Certification of Compliance scheme which would require such certificates to be signed by an appropriately professionally qualified and registered person who would be independent from the contractor.
- The occupation of buildings should not be permitted under any form of certificate without appropriate assurance that the building is safe for occupation and formal acceptance of this by Building Standards. It is suggested that consideration be given to the introduction of a form of qualified Completion Certificate, instead of the frequently misused Temporary Occupation Certificate, which would identify items of construction that may not yet be fully compliant but are not considered sufficient to prevent the occupation of the building.
- Amendments should be considered to the procedural requirement prohibiting the implementation of changes on site to the design before receipt of an amendment to warrant. In order to address the practical issues associated with amendments to warrant it is proposed that in relation to the category of larger projects (the twenty per cent) that delays could be avoided by creating a scheme for Certification of Amendments. This would allow a competent registered certifier to provide the necessary approval to changes on site up to a certain pre-determined scale (to be set out in the Compliance Plan). This could be a Certification of Amendment scheme to cover interim and consolidated design amendments prior to submission of the completion certificate.
- The fee structure for staged warrants should be increased to reflect the additional work required by Building Standards services. When a staged warrant application is to be made, Building Standards services should inspect the site to ensure that work is not progressing on those areas still subject to warrant approval.
- It should be a requirement for the relevant person to submit copies of accurate as-built drawings with the completion certificate. These drawings should be fully amended as necessary to reflect the completed building. It is recommended that these drawings should be required to be certified by contractors as being in full compliance with the approved warrant drawings or alternatively verifiers should be advised that amended warrant approval is required to changes in design identified on the drawings.
- The level of legal penalties when non-compliance with statutory procedures and standards occur should be reviewed in order to act as a true disincentive to building owners and developers who fail to take the necessary steps.
- Local Authorities must demonstrate a much greater preparedness to apply penalties for serious or continuous non-compliance. More regular issuing of stop notices and notices prohibiting occupation are required where infringement of the regulations is perceived as failing to provide the required level of assurance that the design and construction of buildings are safe and compliant with the regulations.
- Verifiers should ensure that they retain records of all applications for approved design warrants and in circumstances where there has been no further notification of start on site, or requests for site visits or completion certificates after prescribed times they should contact the agents who submitted them to establish the status of these projects.
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