The Letter of the Law
We’re all very familiar with the Building Regulations and Approved Documents, but do we
know the difference between the legal requirements and advice on how to satisfy them? Hywel
Davies explains the differences between Acts, Regulations and Approved Documents.
How often do you see or hear statements about “the requirements of Approved Document X”?
They often make accurate reference to the Approved Document (AD), and then suggest the
statement has legal force. But this reveals a widespread misunderstanding of how “Building
Regulations” work, and in particular the advisory nature of the ADs. In view of the current
consultation on proposed changes to Parts L and F of the Regulations, and the many pages of
draft ADs issued by Communities and Local Government for our comments, it is important
that services engineers know the difference between the legal requirements and government
approved advice on how to comply.
The Building Regulations are secondary legislation, a Statutory Instrument (SI), made under
powers conferred by the 1984 Building Act. This consolidated prior legislation into one Act,
providing a legal basis for making Building Regulations. The latest Building Regulations
were made in 2000, although they have since been amended a number of times by later SIs.
Regulation 3 defines “building work”. Regulation 4 requires that “Building work shall be
carried out so that - (a) it complies with the applicable requirements contained in Schedule 1;
and (b) in complying with any such requirement there is no failure to comply with any other
such requirement.” Other regulations cover workmanship, material changes of use of the
building, energy calculation, completion certificates, testing, sampling and supervision.
The detailed requirements for the building work itself are in “Schedule 1: Requirements” in
the form of a table, split into several parts, each with an alphabetical name. Requirement L1,
relating to the “conservation of fuel and power” in buildings, is found in Part L (see box). Part
F sets out ventilation requirements, and Part P covers electrical safety in dwellings.
Requirement L1 is what you must do to comply with Part L. However, if you want to know
what reasonable provision might look like, you need a bit more detail. And so government
gives us guidance on how to comply with the requirements in each part of Schedule 1 in the
form of the very familiar Approved Documents.
The Part L consultation proposes expanding the commissioning requirement, as shown in the
box. If adopted, this will make commissioning an explicit requirement. It is already covered
by Regulation 20C, which requires “the person carrying out the work” to “give to the local
authority a notice confirming that the fixed building services have been commissioned in
accordance with a procedure approved by the Secretary of State.” The AD then identifies
CIBSE Commissioning Code M as the approved procedure, along with the various CIBSE,
BSRIA and Commissioning Specialists Association documents scheduled in Code M.
The AD suggests that reasonable provision includes preparing a commissioning plan to
identify systems that need to be tested and the tests that will be carried out. This allows the
building control body to check what is actually done against the plan as work progresses. This
is guidance, not a requirement, but if it is not followed then a reasonable alternative approach
is needed, that will result in Regulation 20 being met, and the approved procedure followed.
The introduction to each AD emphasises that it provides guidance about compliance with
specific aspects of the regulations in more common building situations, and what is likely to
be accepted as reasonable provision for compliance. Although following the AD gives a
presumption of compliance, it can be overturned if a case unusual in some way. And
compliance may be achieved in other ways. But it may be advisable to confirm that the
building control body will accept the solution offered.
Where the AD cites the Regulations then the text must be complied with as stated, and there is
therefore no flexibility to ignore the requirement, or to adopt an alternative compliance route.
So where Regulation 20C is quoted, it must be followed, paragraph 78 of ADL2A 2006
makes clear that the approved procedure is CIBSE Code M, and so there is no alternative.
So next time someone tells you that “Approved Document ‘X’ requires…”, you can explain
that the Building Act empowers ministers to make Building Regulations; the Regulations
spell out the letter of the law; and the Approved Documents advise us how to comply. As easy
as F, L and P?
Part L Conservation of fuel and power
Current text as introduced in 2006
L1. Reasonable provision shall be made for the conservation of fuel and power in buildings
(a) limiting heat gains and losses:
(i) through thermal elements and other parts of the building fabric; and
(ii) from pipes, ducts and vessels used for space heating, space cooling and hot water services;
(b) providing and commissioning energy efficient fixed building services with effective
(c) providing to the owner sufficient information about the building, the fixed building
services and their maintenance requirements so that the building can be operated in such a
manner as to use no more fuel and power than is reasonable in the circumstances.
The current consultation on Parts L and F propose amplifying (b) as follows:
(b) providing fixed building services which—
(i) are energy efficient;
(ii) have effective controls; and
(iii) are commissioned by testing and adjusting as necessary to ensure they use no more fuel
and power than is reasonable in the circumstances; and [(c)]
Building Act 1984 (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office) (1984) Note: the Building Act
was amended by the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004 (sometimes known as the
“Stunnell Act”) which broadens the power to introduce regulations to cover sustainability and
security of buildings, as well as health, safety and conservation of fuel and power.
The Building Regulations 2000 (SI 2000 No. 2531) (London: The Stationery Office)
(available at http://www.opsi.gov.uk which provides free online access to all legislation for
the UK published since 2000, with a significant and growing archive of earlier legislation,
including the Building Act 1984, which has been scanned