BRegs Blog

A blog to debate the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations (BCAR): The BRegs Blog presents an opportunity for free expression of opinion on BCAR and their implementation. The blog is not representative of any professional body or organisation. Each post represents the personal opinion of that contributor and does not purport to represent the views of all contributors.

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No checks of Designer, Builder or Assigned Certifier on #BCMS

by Mark Stephens

qualifications

One of the key omissions with the new Building Control Management System (BCMS) is that there appears to be no checks on the legitimacy and qualifications of the person registering for the system and the legitimacy and qualifications when assigning the Designer, Builder or Assigned Certifier.

Currently (as the system stands) you can undertake the following:

• Register for the system under a fake email and user name, as this is all that is required. There would appear to be no checks upon the identity of the person actually registering for the system. Other public service websites such as Revenue Online Service (ROS) require certificates/passwords to be sent out in post.

• There would appear to be no checks upon the legitimacy or qualifications of the Designer or Assigned Certifier. This could possibly mean that fictitious names and qualifications can be used to assign the Designer or Assigned Certifier and it may also allows legitimate registration numbers of Architects, Chartered Engineers and registered Building Surveyors to be used illegally by others without check. This may be of concern to professional firms advertised publicly on the Homebond register.

• There would appear to be no checks upon the name or qualifications of the builder. You could possibly use a fictitious name of a builder and the system may allow this to be an Assigned Builder.

These key omissions should have been implemented as part of S.I.No.9 and are why deferral had been requested. The above post does not in any way seek to promote fraudulent use of the BMCS system.

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Thoughts on a way forward #bregs #ClaireMcManus

by bregs blog admin team

Claire McManus_MRIAI

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

PICTURE

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.

Sources:

Performance Based Building Regulatory Systems, IRCC 2010

Public Consultation – Draft Building Control (Amendment) Regulations, NCA 2012

Good Practices for Construction Regulation and Enforcement Reform, The World Bank 2013

Claire McManus MRIAI is an architect in private practice in Dublin & Tipperary

Inadequate Regulatory Impact Assessment for S.I.80

by bregs blog admin team

Audit-Checklist

To find out how one might effectively assess building control amendments we do not have to look far: the “Communities and Local Government: Proposed changes to the building control system – Consultation stage impact assessment” report was produced in the UK in 2012. You can read it here. The report comprehensively examines several options to revise and change the UK building control system. Their existing system, unlike ours, already has comprehensive local authority independent inspections with 80% backed by warranty.

The UK report included the Irish system as a option: light-touch, low-cost (to local authorities), self-certification, but discounted this early on due to cost to the consumer and to the wider industry. Making the system of building control simpler, leaner and more cost effective for society in general is clearly a motivating factor.

The UK is our closest model in terms of building standards, legislative system and environment. We are a fraction of the size of the UK, however our demographics are similar. One must wonder after reading this document, how the Department of the Environment, Communities & Local Government (DECLG) opted to continue with the most expensive form of building control for the industry, when a simple system of self-funded local authority independent inspections would improve building standards and save the industry tens of millions per year, while delivering a better standard of building generally and giving the consumer redress in the event of latent (hidden) defects?

Despite over 500 stakeholder submissions on S.I.80 received by the DECLG, no such study was carried out here. It appears that at no point in the consultation process or formation of S.I.80 have the impacts on SMEs, the industry and the consumer been considered in detail. The National Consumer Agency (NCA) estimates the extra cost to the Irish house building industry alone would be in the region of €30m- €90m per year (based on a sustainable level of 30,000 new dwelling units per year). The financial impact of S.I.80 on the wider industry is likely to be a multiple of this. With no comprehensive independent system of local authority building inspections, the effect of S.I.80 on building standards will not give the return for this extra cost to the industry, nor to the consumer. In their 2012 submission the Competition Authority express concern about “whether the additional costs imposed by the proposed regulations are in proportion to any benefit they might bring”

Worryingly, it would appear that the Department did not carry out a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) of the March 2013 wording of S.I.80. A very brief RIA was completed in 2012 and the lack of a follow-up would suggest some of the very significant changes introduced by the Minister in the March 2013 draft have not been comprehensively examined. The RIA produced by the department is included as part of the following document “Strengthening the Building Control System – A Document to inform public consultation on Draft Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2012“ . See document here

The Impact section (section 4) of the RIA is only six pages long and does not appear to be backed up with any research. For example, under the Section 4.6(i) Impact on National Competitiveness, the report makes the simple claim “There will be no negative impact on Ireland’s competitiveness”. The only costs noted is a notional cost per dwelling. Remarkably, the more significant insurance costs are excluded. This is an extraordinarily light assessment of a very significant amendment.

We do not need to look to the UK for examples of good impact assessment. The RIA of our own Construction Contracts Act 2013 (available here) and recent Health & Safety Legislation (available here) provide far more comprehensive analysis. Why has S.I.80 only had the most cursory impact assessment done on the 2012 draft and nothing since? Already three Senior Counsel legal opinions completed on the March 2013 draft of S.I.80 identified serious legal and practical issues associated with implementation, and all concurred that S.I.80 is unworkable in its current form. Given the wide-ranging effects on the construction industry, SMEs and the wider economy, it is remarkable that essential stress-testing has not been completed by the department.

The UK System of Building Control

by bregs blog admin team

As we discuss the adequacy of the new building control amendment, it might be useful to look at systems in other countries. For the purposes of this post we have focused on the Building Control system in England and Wales (The differences in Northern Ireland and Scotland are addressed at the end of the document).

The Building Regulations in England and Wales are set by the Communities and Local Government (CLG).

You have two choices over who supplies your Building Control service:

1. The Local Authority Building Control section or

2. Independent ‘Approved Inspectors’

The Approved inspectors are relatively recent (since the Building Act 1984) and are licensed by the Construction Industry Council For further details on the Approved Inspectors CLICK HERE

Once you have chosen your preferred Building Control service you then have two routes to ensure you are building in accordance with the Building Regulations. When using the Local Authority Building Control method the options are:

1. Full Plans Approval

a. You submit all the construction drawings, details and specifications for inspection/checking.

b. You are then informed of any defects/amendments that need to be addressed in order to receive approval. You can receive a conditional approval where items can be addressed prior to work commencing.

For more information on the Full Plans method CLICK HERE

2. Building Notice

a. You give minimum 48 hours notice to the Local Authority of your intention to build. There is an inherent risk in proceeding in this way as you do not have the benefit of ‘approved’ plans.

For more information on Building Notice method CLICK HERE

Inspections

It is a requirement of the Building Regulations that the builder notifies the Local Authority Building Control section at various stages of the work; this triggers an inspection to ensure the work is carried out at that stage correctly. Failure to give such notice may mean that you are required to break open and expose the work at a later date.

There are minimum days on the required notice that you are required to give (normally on cards provided for this process); for details on the minimum notices and for further information on these site inspections CLICK HERE

The method if you use an Approved Inspector is slightly different in that you and the Approved Inspector jointly notify the Local Authority Building Control Section of your intention to build in an ‘Initial Notice’. Once this notice is accepted, the plans and site inspections are then checked, inspected and approved by the Approved inspector.

Completion Certificate

On completion the Local Authority Building Control Section or the Approved Inspector will issue a final completion certificate stating that the works have been constructed in accordance with the Building Regulations.

Northern Ireland and Scotland

The Approved Inspector route exists only in England and Wales and not in Northern Ireland or Scotland where you only have the Local Authority Building Control Route, although independent inspectors are envisaged in Scotland.

In Scotland the Building Regulations approval to build is called a Building Warrant. The design is approved by the local authority and the architect ‘self-certifies’ that the approved design has been built, at the end of the construction process. All newly built and newly converted dwellings are backed by designated warranty schemes (insurance) as in England and Wales.

In Northern Ireland, there is a full system of local authority inspections for all stages of all projects, even small domestic works. More information is available at http://www.buildingcontrol-ni.com/

You can read more about the systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the Irish Consumer Agency/ Grant Thornton Report ‘Building Regulations and their Enforcement’ available at http://corporate.nca.ie/eng/Research_Zone/Reports/Home_Construction/NCA-Home-construction-Volume-5.pdf

A special thanks to Geoff Wilkinson at TheBuildingInspector.org (Approved England and Wales Approved Building Inspectors)

“What is needed is a system that prevents defects from occurring in the first place”

by bregs blog admin team

Article in today’s Irish Times on Building Regulations http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/architects-say-building-regulations-need-review-1.1609227