Stephen Garvin: Reshaping the Building Standards system

The Scottish Government’s head of building standards Stephen Garvin shares the latest work of the Building Standards Division

The DG One leisure complex

Everyone benefits from well-designed, safe and sustainable buildings, spaces and places. Our built environment contributes a great deal to our quality of life and economic success. However, recent events have demonstrated that we have taken it for granted and this has come at a substantial cost.

Building safety

The Grenfell Tower Fire in London brought the spotlight onto the built environment and how buildings are designed, constructed and procured in a way that has not been seen for many years. In Scotland, failure of safety-critical elements in the Edinburgh schools followed by the closure of the DG One leisure complex raised substantial issues with regards to failure to comply with building standards. The roles of developers and those carrying out verification work was seriously questioned. As a result, a Ministerial Working Group (MWG) on Building and Fire Safety was set up to coordinate a response.

Our response

Over late 2017 and much of 2018, a review panel was convened by the Scottish Government, under the auspices of the MWG, to address issues of compliance and enforcement. The review panel was chaired by Professor John Cole and was composed of industry and public sector representatives.

The review process provided a rich seam of ideas and recommendations that could individually make a difference. These included a more robust approach for high risk and complex buildings, the need to strengthen skills and access to training for local authority building standards teams and ensure the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in the building project are clear.

Oxgangs School

Much of our discussions with stakeholders indicated that the recommendations needed to be developed further to ensure that they could be used within the building standards system. It became clear that such developments would take longer to implement than originally thought and taking time to do it right is clearly more beneficial in the longer term.

Building Standards Futures Board

Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning agreed to the formation of the Building Standards Futures Board at a MWG meeting in late 2018. The remit of the Board is to direct the programme of work to develop and implement the changes to improve compliance. Members provide strategic advice and direct a broad programme of work aimed at improving the performance, expertise, resilience and sustainability of the building standards system and services delivered across Scotland.

The Chair of the Futures Board is Aubrey Fawcett, Aubrey is Chief Executive of Inverclyde Council and he also represents the Scottish Local Authorities Chief Executives (SOLACE).

The Futures Board has approved an initial programme of seven workstreams that take forward the review panel’s recommendations. These are:

  • Workforce Strategy
  • Compliance Plan
  • Certification Strategy
  • Digital Transformation
  • Technical Strategy
  • Verification Standards
  • Delivery Models.