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BCAR Regulations – current position and challenges

Sweco author: Helen Duffy, Assigned Certifier

Back in November, I was delighted to deliver a CPD session to the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI), entitled BC(A)R – The Current Position and Challenges: From 3 Perspectives. There was a presentation of the Legal Landscape by a solicitor, one on Part B Fire / Life Safety by a Fire Consultant, and mine from an Assigned Certifier’s perspective. Here is a summary of my segment for those who may benefit from the overview…

How BCAR regulations have developed

BCAR began in 2014 when little was being constructed and a lot of confusion prevailed. Differing approaches between Assigned Certifiers was frustrating for contractors who were looking for leadership and guidance. At Sweco we attempted to steer a process through the middle ground, ensuring that we had a logic behind everything we were asking for, which we could in turn explain to the teams. As BCAR bedded in processes began to develop and everyone got a better understanding of what the paperwork was for and what they were signing up to. We soon started to get pushback on certification from subcontractors in relation to design certificates and the CIF led with clarification.

Practice Note 2 is all well and good, but there’s still potential for gaps in certification around the specialist design elements. There’s certainly scope for further clarification from the Institutes to ensure that there’s an accepted approach in relation to design liability and specialist subcontractors. BCAR is now a mature process across medium and large scale development and there’s a culture of compliance on sites and also throughout the design process. There are layers of approvals, inspections and certification providing more oversight than ever. Now we see a real focus on the nitty gritty of design responsibility and certification. Of course team members from outside of Ireland still find the BCAR process very difficult to understand and we are happy to guide them through it.

Contractor and Design team engagement

This still varies across teams but is improving with time. There is recognition by contractors that BCAR needs adequate resource within their organisations and subsequently the appointment of BCAR coordinators. We recommend ensuring that this role is identified in tender document and that it’s not made secondary to a site agent’s scope. Whatever the size of the project someone needs to take ownership of the BCAR process for the contractor.

The use of software and tracking

There is a great uptake in bespoke BCAR software (as we have developed in Sweco with ATP Arctechpro) which hold the Inspection Plan at the core of the software and of the process.  In the early years inspection reports were Word documents or a collection of photographs, the Inspection Plan was an Excel document, and manually updated. Lists of non-compliant issues were being raised somewhere else on another document. Inspection notifications are now issued by the contractor through the software  identifying work stages ready to be inspected and taken directly from the Inspection Plan.

We carry out inspections using apps on phones or tablets, each element of the inspection links back to the relevant workstage in the inspection plan. Detailed Inspection reports are generated with pins dropped on plans to locate the issues, photographs and videos being embedded, progress being recorded when works are found to be compliant as well as noncompliant and all providing evidence that the inspection team have indeed inspected in accordance with the Inspection Plan. There’s communication through the software between the author of a noncompliant issue and the Contractors team until the non-compliance is closed out to the satisfaction of the author, with documentation and photos being added into the system as required. There’s real evidence of the inspections being carried out, issues being closed out and at the end of the project an as-implemented Inspection Plan with everything tracked and recorded.

Flexibility is a must as BCAR is sure to continue to develop and our software is constantly being improved.

The Design Responsibility Matrix and Specialist Designers

The Design Responsibility Matrix is very much a focus at the moment, identifying shared responsibility/grey areas which need to be interrogated and agreed between the tier 1 designers, specialist designers and subcontractors. The process should identify the primary, shared and secondary design responsibility.

Professional Indemnity Insurance sits outside of BCAR (although it is referred to on some of the ancillary certificates) but is becoming an ever more crucial aspect to the process of agreeing and refining the design responsibility matrix. If the designer doesn’t have PI cover for an aspect of design then they shouldn’t be designing or specifying that element. The documentation produced by some of the most experienced Design Certifiers is complex and reflects the difficult challenges and scenarios.

We may need third party specialist input to fill the gaps if the competence is not within the team or the PI is too costly or unavailable to them. Ideally we try to identify any gaps before work commences on site – working with the Design Certifier. But ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ and even when the Design Certifier has gone through the Design Responsibility process in detail with the Design Team we address it again and with the Contractor.

Often it’s only when Subcontractors packages are let that the challenging scenarios emerge with another review. At Sweco we review a detailed schedule of ancillary certificates with the contractor and agree it with the design team. Competence may well become a future challenge and the competence and detailed scope of the design team member will likely become much more of a focus at appointment stage as clients become more aware of the issues surrounding PI limitations.

Local Authority Building Control input

During my work in Ireland as an architect from 1999 to 2015 – where I was mainly focused on Contract Administration and construction delivery on sites – I never once saw a Building Control Officer on a site. In some local authority areas this hasn’t really changed. However, Dublin City Council Building Control now lead the way. With the level of development in the city centre they’re the best resourced. We see ever increasing numbers of inspections and engagement. We expect that the majority of our newbuild projects will be visited. DCC are developing and using site software for inspections and are focused on the Section 11 notice process, with agreed response times and clear lines of communication.

The National Building Control Office provides consistent messages to all Building Control Officers and a Leadership role. They deliver really useful & detailed CPD – much of which is freely available to those of us in the private sector too. There does remain a frustration that the NBCO are reluctant to offer advice or to adjudicate on technical, interpretation or certification matters. They will always defer to the opinion of the Building Control Department in each Local Authority. There is no effective overseeing body or appeals process in BCAR.

The challenges of phasing, deferred works and future proofing the BCAR Strategy

Finally, a few of the current challenges working within the BCAR process and how they may impact on delivery.

Firstly clarification that the Assigned Certifier must be the person actually carrying out the inspections and coordinating the wider team. It’s always been clear that it’s the individual who’s signing the statutory forms however many restricted this role to Directors or Partners whilst others (who were on the Register themselves as an Assigned Certifier) were charged with the day to day role, overseen by the Senior. This type of ‘Executive Assigned Certifier’ is not accepted by Building Control and a change of name of Assigned Certifier is required even where the individuals are working for the same entity.

Phased completions have always been a challenge due to limited guidance and there has been pushback in relation to phased completions in multi-unit residential developments. As well as demonstrating compliance of the early phases there is the practicality of handing over, say a basement carpark, prior to all of the cores and apartments above being complete and compliant. Building Control are also concerned about Health and Safety and the physical subdivision between occupied areas and ongoing site activities. There is a lot of oversight from the Building Control Authority here and a BCAR Strategy must be agreed.

Recently there has been specific advice from DCCBC in relation to proposed  phasing or deferred works. By deferred works we mean where some elements are to be picked up by say a fit out team with a separate BCAR process. For phasing or deferred works the statutory certificates (that is the Fire Safety Certificate FSC and the Disability Access Certificate DAC) must reflect this phasing or deferred works arrangement. For developments which haven’t yet commenced we advise that potential phasing and deferred works are included as an option within the statutory certificate submissions wherever they can be anticipated. Often however it’s a fluid commercial decision and can be pretty ‘last minute’.

We are seeing that a Certificate of Compliance on Completion which refers to deferred works will not be validated by the Local Authority unless the Commencement Notice or 7 Day Notice for these deferred works has been submitted and validated by Building Control. This overlapping commencement notice is to provide Building Control with a ‘route to compliance’. It’s a matter of the landlord and tenant teams coordinating but it’s not possible if the fitout team is not yet known. Uncertainty about what will be acceptable to Building Control at the time of a future CCC submissions is leading to a commercial preference to complete fitout works in order to demonstrate full compliance. Everyone knows that these will likely be abortive works where a fitout team will later likely rip out a basic but compliant installation. It’s against all principles of sustainability but the overlapping commencement notices issue is seen as a risk which developers want to mitigate against. They’re balancing the cost of the Cat A fitout against the cost of CCC uncertainty.

Finally on the pre-notification process for lodging a Certificate of Compliance on Completion, the CCC. Typically we agree a nominated date, submit this with the minimum prenotification of 21 days and upload the CCC two days prior to this date. The Local authority will then allow occupation after validation on the nominated date provided that there are no Section 11 or compliance issues outstanding. In the event that the Builder does not meet the upload date some local authorities take the approach that they cannot move the date at all and the only solution is to make a new submission on the BCMS either with or without prenotification – with a potential 21 day delay to validation and occupation.

Other Local authorities will permit the nominated date to be moved. Recently however we are advised that if agreed this change to the date will only now be accommodated one occasion and will be moved to the end of the maximum 5 week prenotification period. Also note that the running of parallel CCC submissions using different dates will not be accepted and if submitted one of the files will be invalidated. It is very risky to agree to the First Day of Business as being the nominated date for validation. We have often needed the entire day to close out queries raised by Building Control – finally getting the validation email from the BCMS only at close of business. Experience tells us to allow the extra day, even though the CCC has been signed and uploaded two days prior. Allow time for differences of interpretation and for gathering evidence or opinions from the team.

5 Key takeaways

  1. Insist upon a BCAR Coordinator being identified as part of the Contractors team
  2. Adopting some BCAR software will provide you and the wider team with tracking of the process and evidence of how the Code of Practice was followed
  3. It’s never too early to start a Design Responsibility Matrix & agree a Schedule of Ancillary Certificates
  4. For any complex projects agree a BCAR Strategy with Building Control at CN stage if needed but certainly prior to CCC stage – especially if you have phased completions or deferred works
  5. Make sure that the Fire Cert and DAC reflect what is being certified at each CCC stage. Always be realistic with your CCC dates and be careful to accommodate any revisions to the Statutory certificates