As the necessity for urgent building works during the COVID-19 pandemic rises, to erect new or temporary accommodation to provide medical care, treatment, or for other supporting services, the Government has issued recent guidance for Building Control Bodies and Approved Inspectors ("BCBs").
These COVID-19 response healthcare buildings principally take the form of new temporary buildings and changing the use of existing buildings.
Importantly, the Government has not currently relaxed any of the formal Building Regulations although (a) local authorities have the ability to relax certain requirements in particular cases (where essential health and safety requirements won't be compromised); and (b) the guidance seeks to permit flexibility to Building Control Bodies in inspecting and approving works.
For instance BCBs, when assessing the works against the requirements of Schedule 1 can and should take account of the "exceptional circumstances" the works are being undertaken in. They should take a "pragmatic approach" but still ensure any decisions have a clear audit trail.
Approved Inspectors and local authorities are encouraged to work together with the Developer, Contractor and design team to ensure such key works can continue and clarifying any relaxation of Building Regulations (if any).
For the creation of field hospitals, the National Fire Cheifs Council has issued specific additional guidance.
General COVID-19 Guidance
The guidance also sets out some helpful general advice to Building Inspectors on making assessments during the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasising the need to balance enabling building works to continue safely and ensuring works are still Building Regulations compliant.
BCBs are still required to assess deposited plans and ensure that the legally required consultations with fire & rescue authorities and sewage undertakers continue; and undertaken "normal" regular on-site inspections (in line with public health guidance).
That said they are encouraged to make use of remote methods of assessing compliance (to reduce, but not negate, the number of physical inspections) – such as using photographs and video.
Some flexibility is provided to BCBs and Developers/Contractors, in particular:
• Local authorities can extend initial notices any of the prescribed time periods in Regulation 17 (completion certificates), even retrospectively. However they should take a "flexible and pragmatic approach" when receiving applications for completion certificates - considering resource impacts from the COVID-19 outbreak;;
• BCBs can issue a part, final or completion certificate for part of a building where owners which to occupy part (even where the rest of the building works have stopped). Where such a certificate has been issued:
o The certificate should accurately record and describe the part of the building / work to which it relates;
o BCBs should continue to monitor occupied buildings with such a certificate and follow up with the building owner finalise a certificate for the remaining work at a later date; and
• Local authorities should be prepared to advise on ensuring buildings are left in a safe condition where work has been/is to be, suspended or otherwise stopped.
[DWF] Practical Guidance
Developers and Contractors seeking Building Regulations sign off should bear the persisting obligations of BCBs in mind when continuing with works and liaising with BCBs.
There are several steps you can take to ensure the BCB complies with their statutory obligations as efficiently as possible, these include:
a) Issue plans and other relevant documents as soon as possible and in an electronic format, annotated so as to reduce the need to physically attend site to understand them;
b) Inform the BCB of the state and progress of the works including what measures have been put in place to comply with the latest site operating procedures and social distancing;
c) Discuss with the BCB:
i. The most appropriate times for them to physically attend the site where their contact with other people will be at a minimum;
ii. Any alternative methods of remotely assessing the works – details on what photographs and video can be provided and what those media need to contain for the BCB to rely on them; and
iii. Any plans to occupy part of the building and/or to suspend or terminate the works.
The more pro-active you can be with the BCB and local authority as applicable in terms of your plans and involving them in key discussions, the more likely you are to be able to obtain Building Regulations sign off notwithstanding the difficulties faced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With thanks to co-author Moe Yassin.