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Local Authorities (Building Control)

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 17 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he proposes to take in the light of evidence that some local authorities are bringing improper pressure to bear on builders to make use of their own building control services rather than those provided by the National House Building Council; and if he will make a statement.

The Building Act 1984 includes specific provisions to enable approved inspectors other than local authorities to certify compliance with the requirements of the building regulations. The approval of the NHBC for certain classes of work has introduced a welcome element of competition into the building control system that is improving efficiency. I have, therefore, been concerned to learn of complaints that a number of local authorities are seeking to put pressure on builders to make use of their own building control services rather than those of the NHBC. In particular, I regard it as wholly improper for a local authority to disregard the clear will of Parliament by seeking to impose such a requirement when disposing of land for housing development. My advice is that this practice is open to challenge in the courts, and I hope that the NHBC or a purchaser who does not want to accept such a requirement will challenge it. If such a challenge were to fail, the Government would consider bringing forward amending legislation.It is also wrong for a local authority to threaten to require the opening up of site drainage work before permitting a connection to be made to the main sewer simply because the work has been inspected and certified by the NHBC rather than by the authority's own officers. Finally, I am advised that a planning condition requiring the use of local authority building control services in connection with the permitted development would be invalid. In the event of an appeal to the Secretary of State, it is to be expected that such a condition would not be upheld and it is likely that costs would be awarded against the local planning authority if an inquiry were held and an application for costs were made. It would be equally improper for a local authority to delay consideration of a planning application unless its own building control services are to be used.