08 November 2016
The following post was submited by Patrick T. Daly Architectural Technologist
What does ‘Opt Out’mean.
I am an architectural technician. I have been in full time private practice since 2003. My workload consists mainly of one-off private dwellings, domestic extensions and refurbishments. Invariably I was affected by BCAR insofar as I had to limit my practice to planning only. This hit me at a time (2014) when 7 years of catastrophic recession was causing me to ask the question ‘should I retrain for a different career path’. I lost out on both the experience of handling the new approach to building control that BCAR has brought about and financially due to loss of income from construction stage services.
Luckily some retention applications came my way at the beginning of 2015 and I also pleaded my case with social welfare and received a part payment to supplement my practically non existant income from self employment. I have followed this blog for the past 3 years or so and have looked on at the BCAR debate from a detached perspective- a little bit like an injured striker looking at a football match from the dugout.
Then along comes ‘opt out’. What was my response? You might think my reaction would be ‘hurrah, I can get back in the game again’. No. I have far to much time in this profession to think only from my own perspective. My view was that despite the onerous liabilities placed upon anyone taking up a certifier role that BCAR has brought, the decision to allow the building of one off dwellings and extensions without the need for statutory County Council vetted and issued compliance certification was hastily taken.
My concern is with the term ‘opt out’ and the ‘message’ that this has conveyed to the public. It is the sign of poor legislators who in one act have completely disregarded the previous attempt at bringing about some sort of cohesive approach to compliance in building codes and standards.
I have years of experience of how poorly understood the need for proper regard for building regulation is by the general public. It is a fact that an attitude of break or bend the rules prevails in this country if it will lead to saving a few bucks in the short term. This said I am embracing my reinstated role of being ‘allowed’ to once again, offer my opinion on compliance issues by getting up from behind a computer screen and actually inspecting the thing that materialises from my hours of work – thinking, drawing and writing about.
The BCMS portal is an important development, one which I am finding brings greater awareness to clients and builders about the need to construct to current regulation or more importantly current best practice. It allows the establishment of a framework within which I can manouvere a small domestic project from being substantially compliant to a position whereby every effort had been made by the project team to adhere to the building regulations. I am not taking a light touch approach and am using my knowledge of the full BCAR system to instigate control measures into my approach to ‘opt out’. This is what needs to occur as attitudes to inspection, accountability and responsibility for our built environment need to change on all sides.
Given that the only requirement of ‘opt out’ is that ‘an alternative approach’ be used to demonstrate compliance with building regulations, this leads to as much a professional quandary as did the introduction of BCAR in the first place. The inspecting professional is left entirely responsible for compliance issues with not even a paperwork checking exercise required on the part of the local authority. Therefore to increase standards the control measures that I have introduced include:
- Preparation and upload of compliance stage drawings and specifications
- Preparation and upload of an inspection plan.
- Doubling the number of visits to site for inspection purposes.
- Increasing visual recording of building work (photographs measured surveys and sketches).
- Increased monitoring of builders and tradepersons approach to construction detailing .
- Ensuring CE certification is provided for all materials.
- Ensuring certification is provided for installations by specialists such as plumbing, electrics and waste-water treatment.
These are a minimum set of measures that I expect will be added to as projects develop on site, because in the absense of any type of framework or guidance surrounding ‘opt out’ I have to develop my own procedures.
Finally for anyone conducting or involved in the Full System I applaud you as the detail, caution and responsibility required by Design and Assigned certifiers complete with the wording of the statutory certifcates would cause me to hesitate leading to a state of professional paralysis. I may be a simple techie but in my view a lot of the consternation among the professionals signing these certificates could be allivated by a review of the language used.
Essentially you are offering a blanket quarantee to anyone entering, owning, using or having any concern with the building whatsoever, that every component or all the workmanship is completely in accordance with the building regulations. This is a position that is impossible in the construction of a bespoke or unique item involving numerous designers, suppliers and constructors. Unless we move towards total factory controlled production of buildings – a move which could inevitably lead to design monotony and architectural blandness, these blanket guarantees are an impossible burden on professionals in private practice.
All this said I will reiterate my concern that this whole area be constantly reviewed and the legislation rewritten until the principal objective of responsible compliance is understood by all involved. At this stage we have had 2 and a half years of BCAR and a little over 1 year of ‘Opt Out’. A lot of the concern expressed by the professions that surrounded the introduction of the system seems to have abated- presumably as certifiers get to grips with the process and projects get completed without the painful calamaties that everyone envisaged would occur.
What I would like to know is, in the private residential sector how many projects are proceeding under the full system and how many under ‘opt out’ and how is the ‘two tier’ approach benefitting outcomes in the built environment?
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