The privatisation of local authority building control teams could lead to a better service for extenders and renovators, experts say.
Public service building control teams help to establish whether a renovator or extender’s projects meets building regulations. This can also be done by private building inspectors.
In 2015, Elmbridge Borough Council, now Elmbridge Building Control Services (EBCS), became the first Building Control Mutual in the UK. This mutual policy approach enables EBCS to compete with the private sector while still being part of the Local Authority Building Control (LABC) – the professional body representing council building inspectors.
By becoming private, local authorities can potentially charge more than the LABC, but it also means that they have the financial resources to outsource projects to external consultants and work on multiple applications concurrently. Privatisation also enables another benefit: utilising and enforcing contracts to ensure greater financial control.
Andy Stevens, builder and consultant with Eclipse Property Consultants, says that this while the move will financially benefit Elmbridge Borough Council, it could also have a marked impact on the consumer.
“This [privatisation] is a lot better for renovators and extenders,” Stevens told Homebuilding & Renovating. “Elmbridge will likely be the first of many councils to do this. They’re still part of LABC, but they go over and above and offer better service because it’s become a competitive business.”
Challenging Times for Building Control
Local authorities are facing increasing challenges, and government funding for local authorities has fallen by an estimated 49.1% from 2010-11, stretching some councils to breaking point.
This is where privatisation helps to broker a solution. The government contributed £37,950 to help mutualise ECBS, enabling greater resources to be utilised and to help councils manage their day-to-day responsibilities.
Building Control Officer and author Paul Hymers believes the move to privatisation is not without its problems, but admits it could be adapted by more local authorities in the future.
Hymers told Homebuilding & Renovating: “These are challenging times for public service building control; our officer demographic is mostly in their fifties and approaching retirement. A couple of councils have had to buy in the service from external consultants instead.
“But, while it may be easy enough to find businesses willing to provide the fee earning service of plans approval and inspections on a self-financing basis, the non fee-earning statutory services like enforcement, demolitions and dangerous structures might be harder to provide outside.”
Better Choice For Consumers
For renovators and extenders, the privatisation of local authorities “could yet offer a better service to clients,” according to Jason Orme, Director of Content at Homebuilding & Renovating.
Orme doesn’t believe the increased costs will prove a roadblock for builders, despite buildings having to prospectively pay higher inspection fees, but he isn’t convinced that Elmbridge’s move will be the catalyst for a sudden swing in the sector. Moreover, he insists that local authorities governed solely by LABC remain a competitive option.
“With regards to Elmbridge, going private won’t provide competition for renovators savvy enough to know the choice they have. It’s really a question of the people involved. I’ve had brilliant experiences with local authorities over the years, who’ve been really benevolent in helping with my project.”