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, although 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 in-depth, and can be read in full on the Communities and Local Government website (communities.gov.uk), but in brief, your project will have to comply with the following documents. They are recognised by lettered Parts.
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 periodically.
How does this affect you? Well, it means that your designer/builder will need to be aware of the Regulations and any changes therein. Certainly, as a self-builder or renovator, you won’t be expected to have all of these committed to memory.
Who Administers the Regulations?
Building Regulations approval can be granted by either your local authority building control (LABC) department or any private company acting as an Approved Inspector. Around 20 per cent of all approvals are now handled privately, without recourse to the local authority.
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 drainage, heat-producing appliances, cavity wall insulation and electrics 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).
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 – i.e. conservatories not containing sleeping accommodation (check with your local authority for a full list) – are also exempt.
As a general rule, structural work as well as anything to do with electrics and drainage needs building control approval; most other works don’t. If in doubt, check with the local authority before starting work.
The Application Process
An application has to be accompanied by the relevant fees (currently £533 plus VAT for new dwellings, less for most extensions) covering both the application and the eventual inspections. Most local authorities offer fee calculators on their websites. 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.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland it is also possible, in the case of certain minor works, to proceed on what is known as a Building Notice (meaning works are inspected without needing subsequent plans approved). In general, the forms are quite complicated and must be accompanied by detailed drawings, calculations and specifications, which can often only be provided by professionals in possession of the right or relevant software.
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, and those inspection stages are: excavations for foundations; foundation concrete; oversite; damp-proof course; foul water drains trenches open; surface water drains trenches open; occupation prior to completion (second fix); and completion.
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).