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So What is an Independent Building Inspector and How Can they add value?

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on December 15, 2015 at 6:35 AM Comments comments (0)

 

(This post originally appeared as a guest blog on Selby Designs website)

 

Building Regulations approval is required on almost every building project, including those that are permitted development under the planning system, and even for internal alterations to your home or office.

 

In this blog we talk to Approved Inspector Geoff Wilkinson* and ask him about the Approved Inspector system which is the alternative way to get Approval instead of using the Local Authority Building Inspector.

 

(Geoff is Managing Director of Wilkinson Construction Consultants and writes the Building Regulation column in Architects Journal)


So what does an Approved Inspector do?

 

The service itself is essentially the same as the councils – the Approved Inspector will check and approve the plans, and then come out and inspect the works being carried out at various stages. I should point out though that the Approved Inspector system is a complete alternative to the Council service, the Approved Inspector is the actual decision maker, not a subcontractor for the council.


How is that possible?

 

The Government in the 1980’s recognised that the Building Control System was broken and causing great problems to developers as there was no choice in service provision. If your Local Council was short staffed you had no choice but to wait for your application to be processed. Worse still if the Local Authority Union went on strike your building site shut down while you waited to have your work inspected and approved. As a result they decided to introduce competition into the market as a way to improve standards. Successive Governments have recognised the role that Approved Inspectors have played in fixing the problems of the 1980s.

So can anyone become an Approved Inspector?

 

In short no – not everyone can become an Approved Inspector. Licenses are only issued by the Construction Industry Council and applicants have to prove that they are qualified and experienced to the necessary level before they can practice. This typically means that they hold RICS or equivalent qualifications, have 5 years post qualification experience, have complaints procedures and insurance in place in case anything went wrong, undertake continuous training of staff, and sign up to performance standards. The licenses are reviewed every 5 years there are sanctions that can be taken against Approved Inspectors that fail to perform. Interestingly there are no such requirements for Council Building Inspectors and the Government are now encouraging councils to apply to become Approved Inspectors.


How does the service differ?

 

The difference is generally in approach as after all both services essentially offer the same thing – a statutory check that building regulations are being followed. Approved Inspectors are commercially aware (they are businesses themselves after all), so understand that the important thing to a client is that works are completed on time and on budget. As a result they look to find ways to help you comply and offer advice early in the process to avoid the need to correct defective work. We don’t justify our fee by trying to find faults!

 

That may sound like we try to cut corners, but let me explain more. Since the 1980’s the building regulations have been cast in a functional form rather than being prescriptive In plain English this means that there are many different ways that you can show compliance, not just by following the Approved Documents . Approved Inspectors are more flexible in interpretation of the regulations as they are aware of these alternative routes. Also there is no political interference in the decision making process. Unfortunately many Local Authority Building control departments sit beneath Town Planners and in some cases they look to Gold Plate the minimum requirements in order to meet party political aspirations. The Government are trying to stop this completely by bringing all of the technical requirements out of the control of planners and into the Building Control system (see the Housing Review)

 

Lastly I should point out that Approved Inspectors have a duty to turn down work if they do not have the resources and experience to cope. The reverse is true of the Council service, who cannot refuse to accept a valid application. Councils are permitted 5-8 weeks in order to process an application and during busy periods Local Authority staff can be overstretched to breaking point to meet these targets. In some cases they end up rejecting applications in order to meet those deadlines , whereas there are no such deadlines using Approved Inspectors. As a result turnaround times are typically 5-10 days, instead of 5-8 weeks.


So who are these Approved Inspectors?

 

Approved Inspectors can vary from large corporate practices of around 100 surveyors covering the whole of the country to small local businesses employing just 1 or 2 staff. Some specialise in particular sectors, such as housing, offices, or retail, whilst others work across all sectors. For the most part Approved Inspectors attract the very best ex Local Authority staff who want to concentrate on delivering high quality services and are fed up with the bureaucracy of Local Government. They don’t just work 9am – 5pm and are on hand to give advice from the earliest stage – often pre-planning to ensure that your design wont be rejected

Sounds great, but its not been tried and tested has it?

 

Actually it has been – Approved Inspectors were first introduced in the 1980’s and there are now around 60 or so licenses in place, a full list can be seen on the Construction Industry Website.


Why haven’t I heard about this before then?

 

For many years Approved Inspectors only operated in the commercial sector as the first licenses excluded housing. As a result most of the big commercial developments and many government departments used Approved inspectors whilst small residential developers didn’t. The Government recognised this issue and changed the rules to enable Approved Inspectors to operate on a level playing field and as a result most will now take on smaller projects too.


But it must be more expensive then?

 

Not necessarily, Approved Inspectors are able to operate without the costs of Local Authority services, operating from small local offices rather than grand civic centres. As a result fees are generally competitive, often within 10% of the Council fee and sometimes even cheaper. More importantly though Building Control fees are typically no more than 1-2% of the cost of a project £600 – £1000 on a typical £30K – £50K extension, and the right choice of Approved Inspector can save significantly more than that in delay and correcting defective works.

 

Thanks Geoff

 

We have tried it out ourselves and we can honestly say that the added value that Geoff and his team have been able to contribute to our projects, has been priceless. From early on construction advice enabling us to deal with any potential construction issues at a design stage, significantly reducing the chance of costly mistakes later on, through to the efficient manor in which the applications themselves are dealt with, allowing clients to begin their projects far sooner than if they had opted for the direct local authority route.

Sam Gomersall - Selby Design http://selbydesign.co.uk/ ;

But don’t just take our word for it here’s what our clients have to say about Approved Inspectors ——-

“We bought a new house at auction, having previously been living in rented accommodation and had served notice on our rented property with a very small window to carry out the necessary extension and construction works to our new home, in order to make it suitable for our family. It was extremely important to us that works we were able to start as soon as possible and that there were no delays during the construction phase. With Selby Design’s completed building regulations plans and Geoff’s plans approval being received in 7 days, we were able to start work. Without the level of expertise and efficient application process offered by Wilkinson Construction Consultants, we would never have met our deadline!”


 

New Building Regs for Broadband

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on November 30, 2015 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

 

Building Regs are like busses - You wait ages for a new one - then 2 come along at once! That's right following hot on the heals of Octobers release of Part Q (Security) DCLG have released a draft Part R for Broadband.

So what is this all about and why is a new regulation necessary?

Well you wont be surprised to find that the European Commission is to blame by introducing a legally binding Directive. The directive requires Member States to ensure that new buildings and major renovations are constructed to enable connection to broadband with speeds of no less than 30 Mbit/s. The requirements of the Directive have to be implemented by “laws, regulations and administrative provisions” and the current approach is that implementation must be done at minimum cost and with no gold-plating.

As the European requirement is triggered by the submission of a “building permit” the obvious route to implementation is the Building Regulations.

No additional primary powers will be needed as the Building Act 1984 can be used to extend the current application process which is already a feature of the UK’s approach under Building Regulations. Enforcement and compliance checking will be undertaken by Building Control Bodies as part of their normal functions. Statutory guidance can then be issued (via the Approved Document) that sets out some of the approaches that developers could take to meet the regulatory requirements.

The draft Approved document has been published and under the new proposals all new housing developments, commercial buildings, schools, retail and other buildings will be required to have infrastructure to enable connections to broadband speeds in excess of 30 Mbit/s.

As ever it will be Small builders, particularly in rural areas where even the most basic technology to enable broadband connection may not be available could be hit hard by the new regulations as they will be required to include the basic internet connection infrastructure in order to gain approval .So in the draft guidance DCLG have included an exemption for single dwellings that are remotely isolated and have no prospect of being served by fast access broadband - which presumably are the only ones which wouldn't be fitted with a phone line in the first place.

Putting aside the fact that the regulations therefore seem to serve no purpose (in fact a similar proposal was shelved in 2004 as it was felt that it was unnecessary ) what do the new regulations actually require?

Well there are several ways to build the required infrastructure. For residential and small commercial buildings, they include:

• Broadband provided over networks originally deployed for cable television via a combination of fibre and coaxial cable. These can deliver speeds of up to 152 Mbit/s.

• A combination of fibre and copper technology. This is where fibre is provided between an exchange and a cabinet, and then the existing copper phone line is used to deliver higher speeds of up to 76 Mbit/s.

• Fibre only technology. These networks rely entirely on fibre to connect buildings to the exchange. This delivers speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s.

For single dwellings a hole in the wall connecting an external access point to the network termination point inside the house is required, the unit cost for houses is expected to be around £68. For flats the EU Directive bizarrely only necessitates ducting not the wiring with an estimated cost of £136.

The full consultation can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/new-part-r-of-the-building-regulations and closes on 11th Jan 2016



 



 

 


Finalists

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on October 2, 2015 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

 

We are pleased to announce that we have again made the finals of West London Business Awards! The awards are very prestigious and competitive, so to make the finals is quite an achievement. 

Other finalists includehoushold names such as

  • Brunel University
  • Hilton London Heathrow Airport
  • Hammersmith Apollo
  • Wembley Stadium
  • Westfield London
  • Cargiant
  • Pell Frischmann
  • A2Dominion Group
  • Clearview Homes
  • Handelsbanken

 

The Winners will be announced at a glittering gala dinner presented by Jason Donovan on November 26 with 300 guests expected.


                   

 

Part B (Wales) New rules require sprinklers in new home

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on August 28, 2015 at 5:25 AM Comments comments (0)

New Building Regulations 37A means sprinklers will now be required to all new houses and flats, including those formed by a material change of use.

The rules will only apply in Wales from 1st January 2016, and do not apply to building work which is the subject of an initial notice which is submitted before 1st January 2016, provided that the work is commenced on site on or before 1st January 2017. Applications should ideally be submitted in plenty of time for notices to be served given the Christmas & New Years public holidays.

Full details can be found at

http://gov.wales/topics/planning/buildingregs/circulars/building-regulation-circular-wg-008-2015/?lang=en

 

http://gov.wales/topics/planning/buildingregs/publications/part-b-fire/?lang=en



 

Housing Standards Review 2

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on July 30, 2015 at 8:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Continuing the series looking at the October changes to Building Regs

 

In March the outgoing government announced the outcome of the Housing Standards Review, and that all technical standards will (as far as possible) be consolidated in the building regulations and the accompanying approved documents. This is part of an ongoing series looking at those new standards.

 

This month (and next) I am looking at the changes to Part M - Access and use of Buildings.

 

As previously explained The Government has created a new approach for the setting of technical standards for new housing. This rationalises the many differing existing standards into a simpler, streamlined system which will reduce burdens and help bring forward much needed new homes.

 

As a result of the changes the Lifetime Homes code of practice standard and various other local requirements for Accessible housing have been withdrawn from use by planning authorities. Instead Local planning authorities will now only have the option to set additional technical requirements exceeding the minimum standards required by Building Regulations in respect of access to new dwellings by reference to enhanced Building Regulations in National Guidance.

 

They will have the option to set the requirements at one of three levels - either the base default level Requirement M4(1) Visitable dwellings - which is the current Part M standard or a new increased standard M4(2) for Accessible and adaptable dwellings, or a higher standard still - M4(3) Wheelchair user dwellings.

 

Architects will ideally need to appoint Building Control prior to making a planning application to advise on the potential impacts, and at the very least will need to include details of any planning conditions as part of the Building Regs application process.

Before looking at detail at these technical standards I should first explain the process involved in selecting the standards. Planning Authorities must now base their requirements on the housing needs assessment and other available datasets. There is a wide range of these datasets including:

 

• the likely future need for housing for older and disabled people (including wheelchair user dwellings).

• size, location, type and quality of dwellings needed to meet specifically evidenced needs (for example retirement homes, sheltered homes or care homes).

• the accessibility and adaptability of existing housing stock.

• how needs vary across different housing tenures.

• the overall impact on viability.

 

Having established a need the local planning authority can adopt a policy to provide enhanced accessibility or adaptability but only by reference to Requirement M4(2) and / or M4(3) of the optional requirements in the Building Regulations. They should clearly state in their Local Plan what proportion of new dwellings should comply with the requirements, and then apply these by condition with the planning consent. But it will be Building Control and not planning that will be required to sign off on compliance on these conditions and as a result forms such as application forms, Initial Notices and Final Certificates will all need to be amended to reflect these changes.

 

As a result of these changes Part M is now broken down into two new approved documents

 

Approved Document M (Access to and use of buildings):• Volume 1 - Dwellings and • Volume 2 - Buildings other than dwellings

 

Requirement M4 Sanitary conveniences for dwellings is gone is divided into the 3 new requirements as described above. Architects dealing with M4 (1) dwellings and buildings other than dwellings will find that the technical standards in the approved documents are unchanged from the current Part M. However those dealing with M4 (2) and (3) dwellings will need to become familiar with a whole new set of technical standards.

 


Enquiries to book CPD courses can be made via [email protected]

 

 


Great Place To Work

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on July 30, 2015 at 8:05 AM Comments comments (0)

We are pleased to announce that we have been officially accredited with the Natiuonal Workplace Wellbeing Charter Mark.

 

The Charter Mark, was awarded by Kent County Council at an awards ceremony at Oakwood House in Maidstone

 

The award followed a detailed audit and interview of staff & management against the 8 awards criteria including Leadership, Absence Management; Health and safety; Smoking and Physical Activity and the company was officially deemed strong enough in all areas to receive the accreditation. In addition the company was recoognised for excellence in Health & Safety and in its flexible working arrangements

 

This award follows the recent news that WCCL has been named as a finalist in the Family Business Awards 2015.

 

The auditors stated that

"During the course of the accreditation process it became apparent that there was an ‘open’ culture, with good communication between employees at all levels. There was a friendly atmosphere and a good feeling of comradeship between employees and employers. Staff felt supported and the organisation had a flexible approach to work life balance that made work a positive experience and if they were quite busy, or a bit stressed, the boss even made the tea!

Staff had a good knowledge of health and safety legislation as this is their core business, but felt the process had put ‘health’ more prominently on their agenda. They felt they could share this with other businesses. All were positive about roles, management and felt this was a good place to work.

Gaining the Workplace Wellbeing Charter demonstrates  that Wilkinson Construction is an employer of choice, a successful and happy place of work."



 

 


MP Visit

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on July 17, 2015 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

We were recently paid a visit at our West Malling Office by Kent MP Tom Tugendhat. Tom had a brief tour of our offices and spoke to staff to find out more about Approved Inspectors, before heading off to see one of our supervised projects - the extension at Kings Hill Cricket Club. Tom later took to twitter to explain how impressed he had been with our portfolio.


   

Awards

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on July 6, 2015 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Wilkinson Construction Consulatnts are pleased to announce we have been shortlisted as a finalist in the prestigous Red Ribbon Family Business Awards. The finals were held at Shakespeare Globe theatre in London in July 2015



Housing Standards Review 1

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on June 30, 2015 at 8:25 AM Comments comments (0)

In March the outgoing government announced the outcome of the Housing Standards Review, and that all technical standards will (as far as possible) be consolidated in the building regulations and the accompanying approved documents. This is part of an ongoing series looking at those new standards.

The 2015 edition of Approved Document G (Sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency) contains changes to the water efficiency requirements. In particular, it introduces an optional requirement of 110 litres/person/day where required by planning permission, and an alternative fittings-based approach to demonstrating compliance. It also includes the water-efficiency calculation methodology for new dwellings, approved by the Secretary of State.

The first major change is to the regulations themselves whereby regulation 36 has been amended to include two performance levels - a default standard of 125 litres per person per day (unchanged from the 2010 version) and an optional requirement of 110 litres per person per day. This higher standard only applies where the planning permission under which the building work is carried out specifies the optional requirement and makes it a condition that that requirement must be complied with.

The question this throws up is - when does the optional standard kick in and can a planning authority make such a condition? The guidance on the planning portal states that this should only be where there is a clear local need, set out in Local Plan policy.

It will be for a local planning authority to establish such a clear need based on:

• existing sources of evidence.

• consultations with the local water and sewerage company, the Environment Agency and catchment partnerships.

• consideration of the impact on viability and housing supply of such a requirement.

Architects will ideally need to appoint Building Control prior to making a planning application to advise on the potential impacts, and at the very least will need to include details of any planning conditions as part of the Building Regs application process. Building Control will be required to sign off on compliance on these conditions and as a result forms such as application forms, Initial Notices and Final Certificates will all need to be amended to reflect these changes. Architects will need to obtain the new forms in plenty of time for the changes.

 

The second major change is that there will now be an alternative compliance route to demonstrate how you have met the standard. In the past the only option was to undertake a detailed water use calculation using the nationally approved method. However under the new Approved Document there is now a second simpler option called the fittings approach whereby an architect can simply specify maximum consumption levels for typical fitting such as baths, showers, washing machines etc. There are two new tables (reproduced below) showing the approach for both consumption levels.


 

 

 

This simplifies the application process and helps remove the need for a specialist appointment (such as a CfSH assessor) but does limit the degree of choice of fittings. Also it should be noted that not all countries follow the UK method of specifying water use and some countries allow for bather displacement, which is inconsistent with the tables. Care should be taken in specifying non-UK based products when using the tables.

 

Last Call on Part L 2010

Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on March 2, 2015 at 4:40 AM Comments comments (0)

This is a last reminder to Clients who appointed us ahead of the implementation of Part L 2013 that the deadline for commencement of works  is almost upon us.


There is just over 1 month remaining to meet the transitional provisions put in place under Part L for applications deposited prior to 6 April 2014 that requires work to commence on site before 6 April 2015.

 


In order to qualify as 'commencement of work' we will need to have undertaken an inspection of

 

  • excavation for strip or trench foundations or for pad footings
  • digging out and preparation of ground for raft foundations
  • vibrofloatation (stone columns) piling, boring for piles or pile driving
  • drainage work specific to the building(s) concerned

 


DCLG have stated that we cannot accept the following as the commencement of work

  • removal of vegetation, top soil or removal/treatment of contaminated soil
  • demolition of any previous buildings on the site
  • excavation of trial holes
  • dynamic compaction
  • general site servicing works (e.g. roadways).

 


If the application relates to multiple buildings it is only necessary to commence work on the first of the buildings within the application to take advantage of the transitional provisions, not each individual building.


If you are unable to commence works by this date then it will be necessary to revise the thermal design (SAP/SBEM) in order to comply with the higher 2013 standards.



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