chapter
18 Pages

Brief History of Building Control

WithM. J. Billington

This chapter sets building control in England and Wales into its historical context. Although forms of building control have existed since the twelfth century, the first comprehensive Building Act was not placed on the statute book until after the great fire of London, which occurred in 1666. A number of towns in England also passed building control legislation in the early Victorian era (e.g. the Liverpool Building Act which came into force in about 1842), but it was not until 1875 that general powers to control construction by means of byelaws (i.e. local laws) was extended to the most parts of England and Wales. Byelaws (and later, the regulations) have been passed for a number of reasons. Initially, this was for the purposes of protecting the health and safety of the public after it was recognised that poor construction (e.g. the production of buildings that were structurally unsound, damp, unventilated, poorly lit, and lacking adequate sanitary facilities, clean water and refuse disposal) led to the spread of disease and caused general ill health. It was also recognised that places of work could be just as injurious to health and safety as poor living conditions, notably where the nature of the process being carried out could lead to an increased risk of fire (e.g. the cotton industry). Regulations have sometimes been introduced in response to disasters or the catastrophic failure of buildings (e.g. the collapse of Ronan Point in 1968). More recently, factors other than health and safety have been seen to be equally important, and regulation through the building control system is now seen as the natural channel for bringing in such improvements. Examples include the introduction of ‘welfare and convenience’ as reasons for making regulations (e.g. access and facilities for disabled people) and conservation of fuel and power (to prevent wastage of energy and ultimately, to have an effect on global warming). To some people it may seem that the Government is stretching the limits of what should be covered by the building control system. The obvious example is the proposed introduction of a new Part Q 12to facilitate the distribution of electronic communication services (Broadband) around buildings. Presumably this is being done under the banner of convenience.