The new building certification system taking efect from 1 May 2005, and the role of the Scottish Building Standards Agency

Johann Lamont, Deputy Communities Minister, recently launched the Scottish Building Standards Agency at its office in Livingston. The Agency is a key component in the reformed system of building standards in Scotland from 1 May 2005. It will take over the functions of the Scottish Executive, and new ones introduced by the Building (Scotland) Act 2003.

The objectives of the building standards system are unchanged and are very similar to those in other parts of the UK. The Act defines these as to:

  • secure the health, safety, welfare and convenience of persons in or about buildings and of others who may be affected by buildings or matters connected with buildings;
  • further the conservation of fuel and power; and
  • further the achievement of sustainable development.

However the way compliance is achieved will be modernised and improved.

The biggest change is the move away from prescriptive to expanded functional standards. This is reflected in the name change from building control to building standards. Those involved in design and development will have the freedom to use new and innovative designs, provided they can show that they meet new high-level functional standards for health, safety, welfare, convenience, energy conservation and sustainable development.

Certifiers and verifiers

The Act permits ministers to appoint “verifiers” to ensure that all new building work meets the standards. Johann Lamont has appointed the 32 local authorities as verifiers for their own areas. This will maintain continuity within local government, ensure that verifiers are publicly accountable, and simplify enforcement, as these powers remain with local authorities. The Act also permits certain design or construction work to be certified by qualified, experienced and reputable building professionals and tradesmen as complying with regulations without the need for detailed scrutiny of designs by verifiers. Certification is an optional procedure and it may only be undertaken by an approved certifier of design or of construction. The Agency will maintain an online certification register which will be the only authoritative source of information about certification schemes, approved bodies and certifiers.  The certificate is a declaration by the certifier that the work complies with building regulations; certified work will not be inspected by the verifier. The verifier will, however, undertake enquiries to check that the person signing the certificate is registered under an appropriate scheme.

The Scottish Building Standards Agency itself is directly accountable to ministers for developing and implementing building standards policies. It has already produced the first technical guidance documents: two handbooks, respectively covering domestic and non-domestic building. Although it is not obligatory to follow the handbooks, they will provide workable solutions to be certain of complying. The regulations, and therefore the handbooks, are arranged in six sections which follow the essential requirements of the European Construction Products Directive. These are: (1) structure, (2) fire, (3) environment, (4) safety, (5) noise, and (6) energy. A Procedural Handbook has also been published which explains how the new system operates, with illustrative flow charts.

As well as advising ministers and publishing guidance, the Agency will appoint and audit verifiers and certifiers, offer technical advice and information, and give the formal views of ministers when requested by applicants and verifiers. It also has a research programme in support of standards making and working to ensure the easy introduction of European directives (e.g. the Energy Performance of Building Directive).

New warrant requirements

A key aspect for solicitors of the changes from 1 May is the building warrant and completion process. As at present, a building warrant will be required before work starts on site – though certain work will no longer require a warrant, provided the regulations are met. (See schedule 3 to the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004.) Also, where warrant applications are accompanied by a certificate of design, a discount on the fee is given.

At the completion of work, however, instead of applying for a completion certificate, the person responsible must submit a completion certificate to the verifier. This is to make it clearer to all concerned that it is the responsibility of those carrying out the work to comply with the building regulations. The verifier will, after reasonable enquiry, either accept or reject the certificate. Therefore, before a new dwelling can be occupied, it will be an acceptance of a completion certificate that must be obtained.

The development of the new building standards system in Scotland has only been possible with full support of the construction industry and the various professional institutions. It is essential that these links are maintained and developed. Scottish Ministers view the Agency as a method of delivering policies which are important, whether in terms of sustainable development, improved fire safety, better sound insulation in houses or access for disabled people. If the Agency is to be effective, it needs to maintain the support of its stakeholders. So please visit our website at or contact us direct for more information.

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