Scotland has given its building regulations a root and branch overhaul. Good news for Scottish designers who can ditch by-the-book designs, and a possible taste of what's to come for their colleagues in England and Wales.
The new scottish building act has provided designers north of the border with the first chance to really flex their design muscles for over 40 years. The Building (Scotland) Act 2003, which replaces the 1959 Act, means that expressive architects are no longer tied to the yoke of the mandatory design guidance contained in previous building regulations. In the new system, designers can come up with just about anything as long as they meet standards that describe how the building performs.
The move from prescriptive to performance standards on 1 May was overdue and it may take a while for Scottish local authority building control officers to approve designs that don't appear in their trusty technical handbooks. But any sleepy councils may have been prodded awake anyway, as the Act introduced a system of verifiers and certifiers that changes the way builders comply with regulations.
In the new system, anyone wanting to build must obtain a warrant, which they can do in one of two ways. They can either show their designs to a verifier - a local authority or private approved inspector - who will confirm the designs meet the new functional standards. Or they can show verifiers certificates that confirm the design work has been checked by a certifier who is a competent third party. The system of certification offers the builder the advantage of a speedier approval process and a lower warrant fee. All certifiers must be approved and audited by the Scottish Building Standards Agency, which runs the systems of verifiers and certifiers.
On 1 May, two certification schemes were in place: the Structural Engineering Registration Scheme for structures and a scheme to ensure safe electrical installations run by SELECT, the trade association for Scottish electrical contractors.
The SER scheme differs from the SELECT scheme in that it issues a certificate for the design work, and can be used instead of a inspection of the structural drawings by the verifier. The SELECT scheme offers certification of construction, which informs local authorities that electrical work has been installed safely.
It may take a while for scottish building control officers to approve designs that don’t appear in their trusty technical handbooks
When the builder has completed the building it must return to the verifier with a construction certificate, which it will have received from the building's owner confirming that it has been built in accordance with the warrant. Owners may get a qualified third party to check and approve the work and issue them with a construction certificate. SELECT members will be able to provide building owners with a certificate of construction for the electrical work.
More bodies are expected to introduce certification schemes, including the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, which says it is interested in a design certification scheme for domestic projects. The new system may also influence goings on south of the border - there is currently a working group looking at the possible introduction of the Structural Engineering Registration scheme into English and Welsh building regulations.
Scotland could soon be influencing English building regulations in another manner. The decision to replace Parts A to S of the Scottish building regulations with six numbered sections based on the European Construction Product Directive (see below) is one idea that civil servants at the ODPM in London could be tempted to adopt.