Thursday, March 13, 2008

A blind eye to Building Regs?

Today brings claims by leading M&E contractors that Part L enforcement is "shambolic". HVCA President John Miller said "Contractors are not hearing or seeing anything about enforcement of Part L. Building Control Officers have responsibility for this, but many are turning a blind eye.”

We had a conversation about this only the other day, prompted by hearing of by a Building Regs non-enforcement situation that had resulted in problems, years later, with a project we know about. The plain fact of the matter is that very few BR issues seem to be enforced, particularly on smaller projects. The onus is generally on the developer or architect to do the work right and to get a completion certificate; if this isn't given, for whatever reason, there is very little chance of a statutory enforcement notice being issued unless the non-compliance is hugely dangerous to life and limb.

So a building can stand for years without a completion certificate, and then when it goes on the market...well, a prospective buyer is right to demand the certificate and the situation becomes tense. And even enforcement notices are often ignored; and as these come with a time limit beyond which they expire, illegal structures can exist for years, as happened with a roof extension on a building I used to live in.

Given that Part L is set to become increasingly tougher and more expensive to comply with, what's to say that a sort of mass disobedience might not occur - or a sub-market of properties, more affordable to buy, that simply don't come with completion certificates? Of course this is very unlikely to happen - and the claims by HVCA seem to suggest that BC officers are in fact issuing certificates despite having little evidence of Part L compliance.

BC is, as every architect knows, an area of local government where resources are stretched. There simply aren't enough man-hours funded to mean that every instance of non-compliance is issued with an enforcement notice so most BC departments prioritise 'dangerous' situations. But one of the problems in the project mentioned above was a minor fire door issue - is this not considered dangerous enough? when is a door dangerous enough to warrant enforcement? and where does Part L fall along this scale of priority?