Thoughts on a way forward #bregs #ClaireMcManus
by bregs blog admin team
Ireland should look to international experiences & best practice, and devise an effective system of Building Control that is suited to our culture, practices and legal system. A robust system must address eight major policy areas as set out by the World Bank:
Eight Critical Elements of a Building Regulatory Framework
The following analysis of international experience is drawn from the Wold Bank Group (2013), IRCC (2010) and the NCA (2012). The World Bank document was published this year as a roadmap on how to reform building regulations in order to drive cost-efficient robust systems, which have significant benefits to the entire economy.
The Irish system of Building Control is unique internationally. The Department of the Environment do not publish their statistics or their records of inspections, but their target is only one site visit to 12-15% of buildings. By way of comparison, there is a 100% inspection of all dwellings in the USA and in much of Europe.
AUSTRIA – First Build a Solid Foundation, Then Streamline the System
Austria’s building control system focuses on who can build rather than on the building: in other words, the builder rather than the building.
This system presents risks in that heavy reliance on practitioner licensing or “barriers to entry” can create impediments to progress or price increases during construction booms if not enough licensed practitioners are available to carry out the work. Systems that rely heavily on either professional designers and contractors or professional inspectors require strategies to deal with supply issues.
In Austria a strong foundation of transparency and professionalism has improved the regulatory system. Increased transparency improves developer and builder engagement, thereby increasing efficiency. Increased transparency also reduces public-sector discretion and the potential for corruption.
FRANCE – Private Liability and Insurance as the Main Drivers to Promote Compliance with Building Standards
Private Liability and Insurance as the Main Drivers to Promote Compliance with Building Standards The French system is one of only a few—if not the only—building regulatory systems driven by insurance. The United Kingdom system has some elements similar to those of the French system, in that private-sector third-party review bodies (approved inspectors) must be linked to a warranty provider for home inspections, but this requirement does not apply to non-residential building.
Independent and efficient courts have also been important elements in France’s reforms. The court system has not only regularly ruled to enforce the obligations of the constructors and insurance companies; it has actually expanded them over time through an extensive interpretation of the “fit for intended use” clause of the Civil Code. Emphasizing the liability of private parties may be a more powerful tool than state inspections to ensure compliance with building standards. Reform in France shows that leveraging the power of the market may be a stronger incentive than the fear of fines or sanctions.
NEW ZEALAND – A Focus on Building Control, Accountability, and Consumer Protection
Many countries have established service standards for local building authorities requiring them to have qualified persons on staff who can review building-permit applications within specified time frames. In many countries, however, medium- and small-sized municipalities lack technical capacity or resources to provide the level of service expected or, in some cases, required by legislation. New Zealand’s reform targeted improvements in the transition process for the accreditation of building consent authorities (BCAs). The BCAs were not ready to perform this new task, and their lack of preparation may have led to delays in many jurisdictions.
After improving the municipal service standard and enforcement, New Zealand turned to accountability and documentation and to improving the capacity of designers and contractors to comply with the code. The New Zealand Government has recognized that, while third-party enforcement is important, enhancing the capacity of designers and contractors and empowering the consumer through better information can have an even bigger impact on streamlining of and compliance with building control processes.
NORWAY – Trust But Verify—Norway’s Experiment with Self-Certification
In an effort to streamline its building-permit process while leaving code compliance to the professionals, Norway decided to embark on a bold and unique experiment by eliminating mandatory third-party inspections and relying on self-certification by licensed practitioners. Self-confirmation refers to a construction-permit system placing complete reliance on the project designer to comply with building-code requirements.
The self-certification experiment led to a more streamlined system but also to increases in building defects and reduced building safety. Norway decided to keep the system of self-certification, but it brought back mandatory third-party review for certain crucial building components. The third-party review by certified private inspectors focuses on certain structural, fire safety, and building envelope components.
The lesson drawn from Norway’s experience was that despite self-certification by licensed practitioners and oversight by municipalities, significant increases occurred in building defects and safety problems in the absence of third-party review of crucial building elements.
SINGAPORE Combining IT Solutions with Public-Private Collaboration to Achieve More Efficient Building Approvals
Electronic permitting systems can greatly contribute to efficiency for both the industry and regulators. Following IT-based reforms in Singapore, both developers and regulators have seen significant efficiency improvements.
The Building Control Department (now the Building and Construction Authority) was the clear leader of this initiative, and its leadership and the engagement of all stakeholders from the beginning were key elements of reform success. Subsidies to update IT capabilities and help desks and several seminars and workshops on technical assistance were fundamental in bringing building professionals up to speed on the system. After providing all this support, the government made online submission of processes and plans mandatory: no paper documents were permitted. This was necessary to induce the private sector to fully utilize the new system and to achieve real efficiency gains by avoiding a parallel paper system.
One of the most valuable lessons from Singapore’s experience is the importance of reorganizing the approval process before adopting IT solutions. Authorities met with the private sector and with the technical staff of each of the agencies to look for synergies and to create common standards to improve communications and information-sharing protocols among them. Only after this effort was the approval process automated.
UNITED KINGDOM – Public-Private Competition in Building Control
In an effort to provide builders with more choice and to stimulate competition, the United Kingdom has gradually opened up more opportunities for private-sector inspection agencies, known as approved inspectors. To compete with the private inspection agencies, some local building authorities have entered into partnerships with other local authorities, pooling their technical resources.
The introduction of the private-inspection option and, in particular, the expansion of private inspection in 2007, have resulted in more customer-focused, faster service. Competition among private-sector building control firms has stimulated innovations in public- and private-sector corporate organizations. In the private building control sector, competition has led to the coordination of building control and warranty inspections by firms offering both services. In addition, some corporations offering building control also provide expert design advice on matters such as fire service.
The U.K. experience also shows how difficult, perhaps impossible, it can be to establish a level playing field between public- and private-sector building control bodies. The two building control and inspection systems never really compete on equal footing.
VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA – Competitive Building Control—Clarifying Roles, Ensuring Performance
Much like the United Kingdom, Victoria decided to give builders a private-inspector option. To implement this option, Victoria’s reforms included mandatory practitioner certification of designers, contractors, and public- and private-sector inspectors.
Lack of effective government monitoring of private surveyors, however, has left the system open to the criticism that it fails to protect the public by ensuring safety, competence, and compliance with the Building Act. Local government councils currently have no systematic review process for permits lodged by private building surveyors. Many local governments are unsure of their role in dealing with private surveyors, sometimes resulting in building works that do not meet basic standards. Consequently, the system needs further clarity on the role of local governments in dealing with private certifiers.
A key lesson to be drawn from Victoria’s experience is that greater reliance on private-sector inspections and on private practitioners’ compliance with regulations must also involve greater clarity regarding roles and responsibilities and additional performance auditing.
Claire McManus MRIAI is an architect in private practice in Dublin & Tipperary