Opinion: Approved Inspectors & Architects by Mark Stephens MRIAI

by Mark Stephens

The following post is a personal viewpoint of UK and Ireland trained architect Mark Stephens RIBA MRIAI.

There has been a lot said concerning the viability of adopting the UK model of Approved Building Inspectors in Ireland and secondly that architects are well suited for such roles. Here is my viewpoint and opinion:

The UK Building Control model and Approved Inspectors would definitely work in Ireland, in fact I think it has now become a necessity. If Priory Hall has taught us anything it’s that self-regulation does not work – we need a third party to inspect the work of others, both designers and builders. In the UK this falls to either the Local Authority Building Control Officer or to an ‘Approved Inspector’. This Approved Inspector is licensed and liable to sanctions for negligent performance; the Approved Inspectors were also introduced a long time after the Local Authority model (1984 as opposed to 1965).

In my opinion a similar system must be introduced in Ireland; initially through the Local Authority and then subsequently through Approved Inspectors. The reason for this phased approach is three-fold:

1. By initially adopting the system through the Local Authority the system can be introduced, tested and verified prior to an alternative system.

2. This is the easiest route to adopt in terms of existing skill sets and work flow; there are already Building Control Officers or Fire Officers in Ireland that can be utilised in expanding their existing roles.

3. Why should Local Authorities continue to absolve any responsibility on the construction of buildings in their locality.

As well as the legislation for the Approved Inspectors themselves, the Approved Inspectors in Ireland should also need to be given powers to alter or remove work that does not comply with the Building Regulations; this type of enforcement exists for UK Local Authorities (under the 1984 Building Act) but not for UK Approved Inspectors.

Therefore the register of Approved Inspectors can be introduced at a later date (following the Local Authority model) together with any required legislation.

In terms of architects taking on the role of Approved Inspector; they are ideally placed with regards to training as they are obviously skilled in construction and Building Regulations. However, the Building Control Officer (often now called Surveyor) should be regarded as a completely different profession and the requirements of jumping from architecture to Building Control should be carefully considered. The skill-sets acquired by the architect will definitely be of benefit but it should be realised that the inspection and certification role that would normally be undertaken on your own projects now need to translate to projects by other professionals. This requires the Building Control Officer to compile and keep accurate records, reports, diagrams and drawings for projects designed by others. The architect needs to ask themselves whether they would prefer the role of the Building Control Officer (which I am not denigrating in anyway – I have great respect for their qualifications, training, skills and experience) or to remain as an architect. Obviously if this were to be introduced in Ireland it could be an additional revenue stream for the architect, personally I prefer to undertake the work of an architect. Interestingly, if you look at the UK register of Approved Inspectors, there doesn’t appear to be any that have run or are still running architects’ practices – If I am incorrect about this please correct me. Again this is testament to the Building Control Officer being seen as a separate profession.

The architect should also bear in mind the full role of the Building Control Officer includes aspects of the Building Regulations that may be undertaken normally by other professionals in their everyday work such as a full understanding of foundation/structural design and compliance with Part L via DEAP.

You however may feel differently and if I would encourage you if you felt that this career path is your ‘calling’; all I am saying is that if you are an Irish architect contemplating this as a career move (should it be introduced) then think long and hard about the implications.

Comments welcome…