Scotland’s Building Regulations have always been a bit different from the rest of the UK, but they’re about to become very different indeed. We report on the changes planned, and explains why Whitehall is taking an interest.

The scottish experiment
The scottish experiment

Many in the english and welsh construction industry have a parochial view of Scotland, which is to say that they don’t know how things work north of the border. Many English architects, for example, do not realise that Scottish Building Regulations differ from those in England and Wales – which means they come unstuck when they venture into Scotland.

“Some architects don’t have the faintest idea that there’s a different system in Scotland,” says Sue Bush, president of the Scottish Association of Building Standards Managers and building control manager at Inverclyde council, south-west of Glasgow. “They say that they have complied with Part D on toxins and we have to tell them that Part D means structural fire precautions in Scotland. It can lead to friction.”

From 1 May, many Scots could be just as mystified as the English, as a new system of building regulations is being implemented by the Building (Scotland) Act 2003.

The changes will have ramifications for the Scots and may even lead to another overhaul of the Building Regulations in England. In Scotland, designers will have the opportunity to comply with regulations using innovative products and designs, and a new Scottish certification system, run by structural engineers, could soon be adopted by the ODPM in London.

Currently, Scottish building owners comply with regulations by following prescriptive technical standards. The new regulations will mean that owners can use alternative solutions as long as they comply with broad standards that describe how the building should function in use.

Gus Macdonald, director of practice at the Royal Institute of Architects in Scotland, welcomes the alternative to mandatory technical standards. ‘‘We will be able to produce design solutions without having to build to the guidance, which opens up the possibility of getting innovative designs through building control,” he says. “Traditionally the architect has got into trouble with building control unless the designs were in accordance with prescriptive standards.” Macdonald recalls once having difficulty gaining approval for a car parking undercroft simply because undercrofts did not feature in the technical standards.

The innovative designs will have to be approved by verifiers, the Scottish counterpart of England and Wales’ building control and approved inspectors. Verifiers are appointed by the newly formed Scottish Building Standards Agency. Thirty-two councils have been named as verifiers so far. The act also allows private approved inspectors to be appointed as verifiers.

Macdonald wonders how quickly verifiers in the local authorities will adjust to the new functional means of compliance. “There are one or two reservations as to how open-minded verifiers will be, because it requires building control to step outside the strict parameters of the prescriptive regulations to make decisions.”

SABSM’s Bush believes that councils are ready to modernise and says that the relatively small number of local authorities in Scotland makes it easier to communicate change.

Civil servants in London are keenly monitoring Scotland’s new system of certification. The certification system is an alternative to building owners’ designs and construction being verified by local authorities (see “Verifiers and certifiers”). Owners who go down the certification route could reduce their warrant fees payable to the council and speed up the approval process.

Two initiatives will be in place by 1 May, one of which is the Structural Engineering Registration Scheme. Sue Doran, company secretary of SER which runs the scheme, says there is already a working group looking into introducing a certificate for structures into the English and Welsh Building Regulations.

Doran is confident that certification will eventually become the main route in Scotland. She says that several hundred individuals and about 100 bodies have registered to be certifiers of structure.

The timetable for implementation for SBSA is tough, and there are concerns that completion certificates have not yet been published, but if Scots take to widescale certification it could provide the blueprint for regulations down south. ODPM officials preoccupied with the Part L energy regulations in the summer will have at least have one eye on the Scottish experiment.

Verifiers and certifiers

A system of verification and certification is being overseen by the Scottish Building Standards Agency.

Anyone wanting to build must gain a warrant from a verifier, who confirms that the work meets the new functional standards. Building owners can also gain a warrant by giving verifiers certificates that show design work has been checked and approved by a professional.

When the building is completed, it can only be occupied once the verifier has received a completion certificate from the owner saying that it has been built in accordance with the warrant.

Building owners may offset part of their responsibility by getting a qualified third party to check and approve work and issue them with a construction certificate.

The certification system requires certifiers to register with a body that has been approved and audited by SBSA. There are two types of scheme – certification of design, and certification of construction – and there will be one of each in place by 1 May. A certification of design scheme for building structures is provided by Structural Engineers Registration Scheme and a certification of construction scheme for electrical installations to BS 7671 is provided by SELECT, the trade organisation of Scottish electrical contractors.

Other bodies are keen to provide schemes for other parts of the building, but have not yet had them approved by SBSA. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland is considering a design certification scheme for small domestic and conservation projects and SBSA says it is in talks with Robust Details Ltd, which provides a scheme for noise regulations in England and Wales.

Other highlights of the act …

  • Councils have a duty to provide Building Standards Assessments when required by owners

  • Councils have to keep a Building Standards Register listing warrants, completion certificates and details of any notices served upon a building

  • Sprinklers to be installed in sheltered housing, care homes and high residential buildings

  • Comprehensive update of guidance

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