A History of Building Control


Fire, brimstone and disease – where Building Control started

Even as far back as Ancient Egypt there is evidence of Building Regulations. Back then if an Egyptian builder did something wrong he was sentenced to immediate death. Fortunately times have changed!

“London’s Burning” prompts first building construction laws

The Great Fire of London in 1666 was probably the single most significant event to shape today’s building legislation in England. Although the loss of life during the fire was minimal, the magnitude of the property loss was staggering: as much as 80% of the city was destroyed, including 13,000 houses, 89 churches and 52 Guildhalls. Fire resistance had not previously been considered during construction but the rapid growth of the fire through adjoining timber buildings highlighted the need for this. It led to the publication of the first building construction legislation in 1667, which required all buildings to have some form of fire resistance. The legislation laid down that all houses were to be built in brick or stone, with the number of storeys and width of walls also carefully specified. In 1774, District Surveyors (or the first Building Inspectors) emerged. Their remit was to ensure the uniformity and interpretation of building legislation throughout London.

Cholera outbreak drives drainage and airspace developments

Following the Industrial Revolution, outbreaks of cholera and other serious diseases were commonplace as a result of poor sanitation, damp ingress and lack of ventilation. Forced into action, the Government drew up The Public Health Act of 1875. This act enabled local authorities to improve the structure of buildings, ensuring stability and prevention of fires as well as the drainage and provision of air space around buildings to ensure health considerations.

A new British Standard is thrown into the mix with construction AND condition control

The introduction of better building techniques using steel and concrete led to the implementation of The Public Health Act 1936. The amended Act introduced controls regarding the construction and condition of buildings, together with the use of British Standards to indicate satisfactory compliance. This was a major step towards the legislation that currently exists but as with all previous bylaws, was adoptive and not mandatory. To improve the situation regarding the variation in the building regulations across England, the Public Health Act of 1961 was introduced. This enabled the Minister to make national building regulations, which replaced all local authority bylaws.

1984 – a ‘brave, new’ Building Act with pictures!

The Building Act 1984 took over the building control aspects of all earlier legislation and also combined all the parts of other acts that related to construction and design. The Building Act 1984 enabled the Secretary of State to make national building regulations as well as providing guidance documents. The regulations consisted of a manual containing the regulations and linking them to thirteen booklets of Approved Documents. These Approved Documents showed ways in which the requirements could be satisfied using, for the first time, diagrams to illustrate the text, making the regulations easier to understand and interpret.

Today and beyond

The last 30 years have seen leaps and bounds forward in construction techniques and building materials from steel and concrete to glass, composites, SIPs and so on. There have been so many changes that the building regulations have had to be completely redrafted at least twice since 1984. Building Regulations 2010 are currently applicable and they revoke and replace all previous editions. Building work must be carried out so that it complies with the applicable requirements set out in Parts A to R of Schedule 1. The requirements in Schedule 1 relate to the following:

Part A – Structure
Part B – Fire Safety
Part C – Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture
Part D – Toxic substances
Part E – Resistance to the passage of sound
Part F – Ventilation
Part G – Sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency
Part H – Drainage and waste disposal
Part J – Combustion appliances and fuel storage systems
Part K – Protection from falling, collision and impact
Part L – Conservation of fuel and power
Part M – Access to and use of buildings
Part P – Electrical Safety
Part Q – Security - Dwellings
Part R – Physical infrastructure for high speed electronic communications networks (Comes into force from 1 January 2017)

Regulation 7 – Materials & Workmanship

It’s fair to say that the Building Regulations 2010 don’t provide light bed time reading, but in the 450 years that have passed since the Great Fire of London, England and Wales now have arguably the safest buildings in the world.

This article was written for us by Scott Adams, Area Surveyor at Devon Building Control Partnership.