“Planning Permission” is an expression that means different things to different people. For those who are new to the processes of getting a building built or altered it may mean “all the permissions I need to start work”. But there can be two, and in some cases more than two, consent processes that need to be gone through before work can start. Building Warrant (Building Regulations Approval in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) is quite different from Planing Permission. Planning Permission is all about the impact and appearance of a building and the drawings required for it need only communicate information necessary for the Local Authority planners to determine whether or not the work proposed complies with their policies.
A Building Warrant in Scotland (or Building Regulations Approval in England), by contrast with Planning Consent, confirms that the design conforms with national technical standards covering such issues as durability, structural integrity, fire safety and the like. This is dealt with by an entirely separate local authority department. The drawings for this consent process are required to be taken to a higher level of definition.
For anyone proposing to do work in Scotland it should be noted that it is not permitted, legally, to start work on site without both forms of consent. In England you can catch up with the Building Regulations process after starting work and it often catches out English developers that they cannot legally do so in Scotland.
Although the drawings produced to obtain this second level of consent contain more technical detail than planning consent drawings they are not required to, and invariably do not, contain sufficient detail to tell a contractor precisely how to build the building. They are not what architects refer to as “construction drawings”.
On small projects and with a competent builder on board, drawings taken to this level are sometimes relied on both to provide a quotation and to execute the works but they still leave much of the detail open to interpretation and misunderstanding with the result being a project at risk financially, aesthetically and technically. Such drawings may not tell the builder much about how a building will look and feel. They describe how the building is to function but that’s about it. Using statutory consent drawings to instruct a builder is like providing only a rather loose “performance specification” rather than setting out in detail what is required. There may be a number of ways that the performance level can be achieved. This could result in disappointment or conflict and it often does. Statutory consent drawings are not required to specify what style of doors are required, what the bathrooms will look like and what floor finishes are to be. Technically a drawing produced to obtain statutory consent shows the general make up of the main building elements. It indicates the wall, the floors and the roof but it will not go into little detail as to how the building goes together. This is crucial to understand.
Producing a set of drawings and specifications that fully describe a new building or alterations to an existing building is a systematic process that goes beyond the stage of statutory consents. There may, of course, be pressure to make an early start in which case some elements of design will be “provisional” at the stage of engaging a contractor but this too needs to be carefully managed and very explicit.
It is not unheard of for a builder to be provided with outline information and asked to base an estimate of the cost on it and then to proceed to build it. However this inevitably leaves a lot of design and specification decisions to the builder. How are these decisions made? The answer is that it all depends on how the contract with the builder is set up. If the client asks for competitive quotations on the basis of ill-defined information trouble is almost bound to ensue. With dubiety over the detail of a building project the risk of the cost escalating is extremely high. This may result from the client adding more and more items to their shopping list, items they thought they were getting in the first but that the statutory consent drawings hadn’t made clear. It is, of course, possible to go down this route if there is an unusually high level of trust between the client and the builder combined with a high level of mutual understanding of what is required but more often than not it does not come out well.
Another approach, more usually applicable only to commercial projects, is to formally pass the design responsibility onto the contractor. This is known as “design and build”. The client takes the design to a sufficient level for bids to be sought and the contractor employs designers to complete the project.
How best to procure a building project and what information is required for each approach are topics that should be discussed in detail at the start of any project.