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‘Let local authorities police building regulations’

Local Authority Building Control should devolve its enforcement activity to local authority policing teams endowed with powers to force compliance, stop illegal building work and penalise rogue builders.

The idea was proposed by Paul Timmins, chairman of the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors (ACAI), the private sector building control trade body.

He argues that the radical restructure would allow the LABC to provide an improved building control service and become more commercially competitive.

“If LABC wishes to have a level playing field to compete with the approved inspector world, then it should drop the enforcement role,” Mr Timmins said. “It should become a trading body and operate in the same way as the approved inspector, which is go through checks and become an approved body.

“Enforcement of Building Regulations should be moved to another section and the rest of the building control activities, such as the approvals, should operate in an environment similar to the approved inspector’s.

“This would allow the local authority policing team to get the enforcement system working effectively, since there is an accusation that not enough enforcement of the Building Regulations is going on anyway. An enforcement team would be able to spot things like skips outside a house, a builder’s van or some other indications, investigate, and issue stop notices and fixed penalty fines where necessary.”

He added: “If enforcement became a separate unit, but remained within the local authorities, LABC would not have the additional on-costs of an enforcement team, since that cost would borne by the council.”

Bill Belshaw, chairman of Building Engineering Services Competence Accreditation, said: “I’d like to see a similar model adopted. There’s no doubt one of the biggest problems facing building control is compliance, not just in terms of ensuring that the regulations are applied correctly, but that competent person schemes are working effectively.

“Without any significant enforcement activity from LABC there is very little pressure to push contractors into CPS and to comply with some aspects of the regulations. At the moment contractors can get away with doing work neither notified to the authorities nor through CPS.”

LABC rejected the model, branding its supporters outdated. “Adopting the police force idea would be going back to the days of the all-powerful district surveyor,” said Philip Hammond, business development director with the organisation.

“Today’s enforcement is achieved through a collaborative process. The bigger projects consider this approach to be indispensable. Building Regulations are complicated and at times can be contradictory, and clients have been saying for years that what they want is help and advice up-front on how to meet the regulations. 

“We only really resort to the ‘policing’ part of our role when we are dealing with a serial avoider, dangerous rouge traders or complete incompetence.”

Mr Hammond added: “A policing body would be counter productive and drive people underground. Contractors unsure of the regulations would not feel there was a body that they could turn to, and would do the work anyway. This would only lead to greater volumes of non-compliant work occurring.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government is currently considering stakeholder responses to The Future of Building Control consultation paper, launched in March this year. It is planning to publish revisions to the building control system later this year in order to improve compliance with the Building Regulations and reduce the burdens associated with the system.