“Can you tell me the size of steel that I will need to span three metres, taking the floor and a bit of wall?” This was how the conversation started with one of our local builders when I was out on site with one of my surveyors.
It’s a difficult situation to put a building control surveyor in really, and I could see my team member beginning to struggle as he tried to explain that we can’t really tell him that. My surveyor looked to me for a bit of help in explaining to our customer, that this was really a step too far. I began by explaining that it is a very thin line between what is design and what is customer service.
The purpose of the building regulations is to ensure the health, safety and welfare of people in and around buildings. The legislation governing them places the responsibility for complying with them firmly with the owner of the building or the person who commissioned the work.
The building control function exists to ensure that any designs, solutions etc., meet the requirements of the regulations, and carries this out by checking plans and carrying out inspections at key stages on site.
Unfortunately a building control body cannot carry out any part of the design on behalf of the person responsible for ensuring compliance. This is done for two reasons:
1. The conflict of interest. If I was to tell you the size of steel beam to use, I would be responsible for both specifying the design and checking it to ensure that it meets the requirements of the regulations. I am not a dishonest person but you can see where there is room for a little bit of skulduggery there.
2. For the protection of you and your customers. Local authorities rarely carry Professional Indemnity insurance, so if I got it wrong and the element was to fail, I would be responsible and you and your customer would quite rightly wish to claim against me. However as I don’t carry that sort of insurance the ability to get any form of compensation would be rather long and expensive, so it is best not to go there.
Back to our site visit, and I explained this to the builder. He came back at me with a great response, telling me that in the case of roof timbers, foundation depths and even drain run sizes my team quite happily tell him the sizes or depths required, so is that not design?
Well, not really. In these instances the surveyors are only interpreting the information that is already available to both them and the builder in different documents referred to in the building regulations and the Approved documents. In the instance of roof timbers, reading off tables in the TRADA Approved Document, taking the span and imposed load the size can easily be read off, as it is with foundation depths using the relevant warranty provider’s tables, where trees etc are present, the same goes for drain run sizes. This information is readily available and in fact all my team is doing is providing a customer service by taking the information you provide and reading the relevant table on your behalf. This is obviously not possible with steel calculations as there are too many variables and this is why each should be designed individually.
The builder accepted this and then started to bemoan the fact he was going to have to ask his client for more money in order to get a calculation done. Don’t worry said my surveyor, we can do that together if you want, after all we are a team...
Longer time periods for enforcement
You will remember a few months ago I mentioned that the Government had extended the time periods in which local authorities could take enforcement action for noncompliance for energy and carbon related issues from the previous six months to two years. I am pleased to say that this time period has now been extended to cover all areas of the building regulations with the passing of Section 317 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. This effectively means that a local authority will have two years from the discovery of a contravention to take legal proceedings against the person responsible to get the work put right.
LABC Surveyors cannot design elements of work as this places them in a direct confl ict of interest
Surveyors can interpret information you give them to take sizes off agreed tables such as timber sizes or foundation depths
The two year enforcement time limit has been extended to cover all areas of the building regulations not just energy and thermal.