2020 has been an interesting year for Building Control. Like with most industries, COVID-19 has had a continuing effect on the market space.
When the country first went into lockdown, Building Sites shut down, Building Merchants closed, and incoming Building Control applications met a standstill.
As expected, this hit the industry hard. Without access to sites, Local Authorities and Approved Inspectors’ workload dramatically dropped. Nevertheless, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Presently, the industry is bouncing back and applications are up.
This reaction was needed for Building Control and, subsequently, it is now expected that the market will continue to grow more fruitful with opportunities.
Alongside lockdown easing and construction bouncing back, Building Control regulations and practices have continued to be under scrutiny.
The Grenfell Tower fire
Since the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017, which claimed 72 lives, Building Control has been examined. Following the disaster, Dame Judith Hackitt carried out an independent review of building regulations and fire safety; now completed, the next steps are in process.
The reaction from Grenfell has had notable effects on the industry already. Taking ourselves back a year ago to the date 22nd July 2019, nationwide Approved Inspectors, Aedis, went into liquidation. This was a result of the failure to obtain Professional Indemnity Insurance, in which eligibility for insurance renewal had become more stringent and restricted.
Moving forward a year, the government has released a draft of the Building Safety Bill, which will be bringing fundamental changes to the industry.
Draft Building Safety Bill
On the 20th July 2020, the draft Building Safety Bill was released. The purpose of this bill is to improve Building standards, ensure regulations are adhered to and encompass an air of certainty that a similar disaster will not happen again.
Whilst the Building Safety Bill incorporates 331 pages of detailed description and analysis, a few focal points of the bill are in respect of the following:
- It will make sure that those accountable for the safety of residents are accountable for any mistakes and must rectify those mistakes. Those who break this will face strong consequences.
- There will be a new set of rules for high-rise residential buildings. This will apply from the design phase, through to construction; finally, this will still be in effect for when residents occupy the Buildings.
- Throughout every stage of construction, it will be clear who is responsible for managing risks and taking responsibility.
Implications of the Building Safety Bill
Accountability is going to be massive for the industry. Whilst competency should be a given, regular competency tests will now be conducted to assess whether a Building Control Surveyor is fit to operate. Additionally, Local Authorities and Approved Inspectors will have to face the repercussions, should anything go wrong under their name.
For example, a Building Control Officer working for a Local Authority makes an error that is then spotted; the Authority could then land itself a hefty bill to pay.
The effects on the market could be drastic. As accountability grows, bringing people into a team to represent the Authority brings higher risk than before. As self-funding departments, they need to ensure that they are bringing money into the Council.
This may cause a change in recruitment processes. Nevertheless, predicting how this will change is unclear.
Changes to the rules with high-rise residential buildings are the backbone of the Bill and will have an effect on commercial Building Control functions. This will affect, largely, buildings that are over six stories or over 18 metres tall.
Those building new residential high-rise buildings, or carrying out significant refurbishments, will need to seek approval from the HSE at three ‘gateways’. These are at the planning-permission stage, pre-construction, and pre-occupation.
One interesting new implementation will be the introduction of an ‘Accountable Person’ who will continually assess the ongoing fire and structural safety of a building. The individual will also be positioned to respond to residents’ concerns and ensure that these concerns are addressed.
In terms of Building Control, this will keep their approvals continually under review. Once again, this will ensure that competency levels are addressed. Having this responsibility observed throughout every stage of construction, once again just reinforces accountability.
Clearly, the Bill will have further scope than purely Building Control. In any case, looking at a few of the focuses of the Building Safety Bill – i.e. accountability and competency – it is clear that there are going to be imminent changes to the Building Control market.