For a number of years now, Governments of all persuasions have been looking how the regulatory burden on the construction industry might be reduced. This is a very laudable aim; no-one wishes there to be more regulations than are necessary to ensure that the industry meets society’s demands. And of course in every such exercise Building Regulations are examined to see whether they now cover more than they need to.
The industry is changing, too. Institutes, led by the CIOB, require their members to adhere to a code of conduct, follow professional standards and keep up-to-date through CPD commitments, while professions like the Clerk of Works appear to be making a comeback. This means good construction managers and site managers may well ensure appropriate safety and environmental standards are being upheld without any intervention by the state.
However, I still genuinely believe that a system of third party checking and inspection is needed. I know, some of you will say that in my job as Chief Executive of LABC “well he would say that, wouldn’t he?” – as a certain Mandy Rice-Davies once said! But I do spend quite a bit of my time analysing the value of building control, and I conclude that such a system is still necessary. After all, not all sites are managed by CIOB members and even they have so many additional responsibilities, not least organising the logistics of site workers and materials, that building quality may be overlooked. And many of the problems identified by building control surveyors are on sites of domestic extensions and loft conversions, where levels of supervision may be considerably less.
Building control has changed greatly over the last 30 years since local authorities became subject to competition from private sector approved inspectors. Standards of service and customer advice have improved immeasurably, and in the last few years local authorities have moved over to a system of risk assessment. This system means that builders perceived as meeting high standards generally receive fewer inspections, and hence pay less in fees. And they do have a choice as to which building control body to use.
Both LABC and CIOB are members of the Consortium of European Building Control (CEBC), which gives us the chance to look at how other countries do things. They do differ markedly. Some counties rely heavily on insurance requirements rather than state regulation – but I have always disliked systems which pay out compensation when things go wrong rather than act to prevent disasters and defects in the first place. Other countries have mandatory builder licensing systems, something which has been considered in the UK but never adopted because of the likely regulatory burden in relation to the perceived benefits.
No doubt the debate will continue. The UK Government is currently examining whether less regulation would lead to productivity improvements in the construction industry, and the CEBC is shortly to embark on a new study of the value of building control. Watch this space.
Paul Everall CBE FCIOB is Chief Executive of Local Authority Building Control (LABC: www.labc.co.uk)