Building control – are the trade bodies exceeding their remit?

18th October 2017


Building control and the way it is interpreted, implemented and managed has come under harsh scrutiny in 2017. Especially the fact much of the responsibility is outsourced to trade organisations.

Outsourcing regulatory functions to the private sector, and reliance on industry trade body guidance has been a prominent feature of the UK governmental landscape for many years. Probably the most familiar example is the Financial Conduct Authority.

The majority of trade bodies are membership organisations, funded by the industries they represent. Self-proclaimed upholders of professional standards, over recent years their remit has evolved, in some cases, to those of regulators.

In certain industries, this regulation has come about by the creation of ‘standards’, which if not signed up to, prevent a company operating effectively within its sector. And becoming a member of said trade organisation and becoming recognised under whatever standard it has created, costs a significant amount of money.

In the construction industry, the national CLOCS scheme costs construction vehicle operators around £4,000 per truck to meet the requirements. The Freight Operator Recognition Scheme in London (FORS) was run directly by Transport for London. It has now been outsourced and is under the control of a private sector business. Without FORS registration road haulage companies cannot deliver into London.

Sitting above all these quasi regulatory standards is legislation. Building regulations are minimum standards for design, construction and alterations to virtually every building. They are developed by the government and approved by Parliament. The building Regulations 2010 cover the construction and extension of buildings and are supported by Approved Documents which set out detailed practical guidance on compliance – building control. But in the construction industry there seems to be an increasing reliance on outsourced services and industry guidance, which is resulting in ‘interpretation’ of the regulations by those in authority.

A recent BBC article on the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, said: “BCA guidance does not just suggest ways of making new technology fit the old rules. It introduces loopholes. The net effect of the sector bodies’ guidance is to set weaker standards than the government’s rulebook.”
In the same article the NHBC comes under fire. It is accused by the BBC of unilaterally deciding that the use of lower grade insulation materials was acceptable. The article concludes: “Accepted professional practice has systematically reduced the fire resistance of our tall buildings.”

Views have been expressed within the industry that government currently wants it both ways. Authoritative guidance from industry that they do not have to pay for and scapegoats when it goes wrong. After all their departments, NGO’s etc. should be supervising, agreeing, producing and enforcing building control guidance in the first place. And yet again it boils down to a lack of public funding. A stop on any R&D; a lack of experienced enforcement officers and potentially industry agendas that revolve around making money. Potentially money saved and made at the expense of the people the building project is intended for. Ground & Water believes, we need a reality check!

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