Planning permission is largely subjective and governs whether you can build at all and, if so, what your new home will look like.
Building Regulations (Building Warrant in Scotland) are, on the other hand, largely objective and confine themselves to the structural aspects of the build, by reference to the regulations themselves.
An application for Building Regulations either conforms to those regulations and is approved, or fails to conform and is rejected. However, there is room for pragmatism and inspectors do have the power to negotiate a relaxation in certain circumstances.
What Are the Building Regulations?
The Regulations are very detailed, and can be read in full on the Communities and Local Government website (communities.gov.uk). In brief, your project will have to comply with the following documents:
Part A – Structure
Part B – Fire Safety
Part C – Contamination and damp
Part D – Toxicity
Part E – Sound
Part F – Ventilation
Part G – Hygiene
Part H – Drainage
Part J – Fuel
Part K – On-site Safety
Part L – Conservation of Fuel and Power
Part M – Access
Part N – Glazing
Part P – Electrics
The Building Regulations are profiled in Approved Documents, which are updated fairly regularly. New ‘Parts’ are published now and then.
How does this affect you? Well, it means that your designer/builder will need to be aware of the Regulations and any changes to them. Certainly, as a self-builder or renovator, you won’t be expected to have all of these committed to memory.
You will need to appoint a building control inspector, who will ensure that your project meets the Building Regulations.
When is Approval Required?
You will require Building Regulations approval if you intend to carry out any new structural work or alteration to your home.
Additionally, work involving these areas also requires approval, although in some of these cases, ‘competent persons’ can self-certify their works for compliance (e.g. under Part P for electrical work):
- heat-producing appliances
- cavity wall insulation
When is Approval not Required?
You do not need Building Regulations approval for most minor works, particularly where like-for-like replacements are used. Certain small buildings, such as conservatories not containing sleeping accommodation, are also exempt. Check with your local authority for a full list.
If in doubt, check with the local authority before starting work.
What Type of Building Control Inspector Should I Choose?
You can choose to use:
- a local authority inspector from your local council and run through Local Authority Building Control (LABC)
- an approved inspector from a government-approved private building inspection company. Around 20 per cent of all approvals are now handled privately, without recourse to the local authority.
This is the case for new builds, as well as alterations, extensions and loft conversions.
Approved inspectors are registered with the Construction Industry Council. They must re-register every five years to maintain high standards.
A building inspector appointed through LABC and an approved inspector will carry out the same duties for a self-builder. They will check plans for compliance when a full plans application is made, and carry out site inspections when requested to check work on site at various stages.
However, only an inspector from your local authority has powers of enforcement. An approved inspector must hand the project over to the local authority if there are problems with the project that cannot be resolved informally.
Whichever route you go down, it’s worth contacting your building control body early to give you an idea of the fees that will be involved. This will depend on several factors, including the size of your project and the number of site visits required. You could also get advice on complex aspects of your scheme.
The Application Process
An application has to be accompanied by the relevant fees covering both the application and the eventual inspections.
Most local authorities offer fee calculators on their websites. Their fees will depend on several factors including the type of work involved and the total floor area. Private companies will negotiate their fees directly with you.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, once an application is lodged, work can commence on site within 48 hours — that is not possible in Scotland, however.
Choice of Full Plans or Building Notice Application
Before any work can begin, you need to decide whether to make a ‘Full Plans’ Building Regulation application or submit a ‘Building Notice’.
With a Building Notice, it is possible to carry out the work without prior approval, but the responsibility of ensuring the work fully complies is entirely with the builder.
If you choose a Full Plans application, you will know from the start that the working drawings have been checked and approved by the building inspector and that the plans fully comply with all of the Building Regulations.
These regulations are comprehensive and quite complex. A Full Plans application would need to include a set of plans that demonstrate to the building inspector that what is being proposed conforms fully to the regulations.
The other advantage of this route is that the approved drawings will show everything the builder will need to know in order to provide a fixed quotation.
The Inspection Process
Although work on a new build or extension may proceed before any formal approval, nothing can proceed beyond the inspection stages without the approval of the inspector. Those inspection stages are:
- excavations for foundations
- foundation concrete
- damp-proof course
- foul water drains trenches open
- surface water drains trenches open
- occupation prior to completion (second fix)
When the building is completed to the satisfaction of the inspector, a Completion Certificate will be issued. This is a vital document that must be retained alongside the written planning permission for use if you ever want to sell. It is also required in order to release final funds from lenders, obtain the warranty certification and in order to reclaim VAT (if applicable).