Industry group calls for private and local authority officials to be governed by common set of rules

Grenfell tower

Private building control inspectors are calling for independent regulation and enforcement powers following the outcry that breaches of the building regulations at Grenfell Tower were not picked up.

In her interim report into the Grenfell fire, Dame Judith Hackitt highlighted concerns that the partially privatised model of building control put the independence of approved inspectors in doubt and that they are not able to adequately enforce building regulations.

Currently, private approved inspectors are subject to a different set of rules from local authority building control departments and have to refer serious breaches of building regulations to local authority departments.

In its response to the Hackitt review, the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors (ACAI) has proposed a single body regulates approved inspectors and local authorities, with a common set of rules covering competency, licensing and code of conduct.

It has also proposed that existing rules on independence applying to approved inspectors are updated.

The UK’s largest approved inspector, NHBC, said a single regulatory body would address concerns over differences in competence and competition by setting one set of standards and regulations. It is proposing the body that currently regulates approved inspectors, an arm of the Construction Industry Council, extends its remit to cover local authorities.

Barry Turner, director of technical policy at Local Authority Building Control (LABC), the organisation that represents local authority building control departments, said these were already strictly regulated. 

He said: “There is an elected portfolio member [responsible] for building control and the public has a complaints procedure and ultimately can go to the local authority ombudsman.”

The ACAI is also proposing that enforcement powers are placed with an independent body that would cover local authorities and approved inspectors. 

Diane Marshall, NHBC head of technical services, said the enforcement role could be taken on by a new body, or by an existing one such as the Health and Safety Executive or Trading Standards.

LABC’s Turner said the cost of enforcement is putting local authorities off taking action against breaches of building regulations. He said it costs an average of £10,000-£12,000 to take an offender to court but costs awarded by the courts are less than £1,000, with the fines going to central government. 

He said: “It’s actually cheaper to go to court and pay the fine and costs rather than put the job right.”