The announcement of the new Town Planning Act and plans to review building regulation is being seen as welcome news within the Town Planning & Building Control Department at Europort. As Building Control Officer, Robert Santos, told us, a change in building regulation is a much-needed update on the current legislation to facilitate the use of new certified materials and allow more flexibility within the construction industry locally.
This would mirror changes being made in the UK that has allowed the shift in building techniques that make the modern industry so dynamic.
“As recently as last year, the UK reviewed their set of rules with approved documents that will help developers achieve compliance and give them the flexibility to prove compliance for new products on the market,” said Robert Santos. “That is where I would like Gibraltar to move and in fact I was asked by the previous administration to extract those parts of the Public Health Act to create what we would have called the Gibraltar Building Control Act and from it the new basis of rules based on approved documents.”
The final draft was produced in 2010 but with the change of government the legislation was shelved as it was not a priority at the time, although Santos hopes the new Bill will include all the changes he suggested.
“Aspects of such new legislation would be very similar to the UK but in some aspects I’ve made a point of giving particular attention to the peculiarities of Gibraltar,” he continued. “So even though the concept is the same, it is my intention to make distinct changes in the application of it. The building industry is changing all the time in terms of methods and materials so, while in the UK a number of commissions and committees look at particular sections of the rules to constantly review them, we do not have this in Gibraltar. In fact, the rules are labelled to be dating from 2007 only because the date gets reset every ten years, but in their content they are exactly as they were in 1984.”
“The only thing that has changed so far is the regulation of energy performance of buildings that replaced the old thermal section under the rules, because it was an EU Directive we were forced to implement,” continued Santos. “It is now a section called the Energy Performance of Buildings which was rushed through due to the implementation of the Directive. The Deputy Chief Minister is aware of the amount of work we have done on the subject. In fact, a copy of the final draft was passed to him for both the new of legislation (The Gibraltar Building Control Act) and the new set of Building Regulations.
Santos joined the Building Control team in 1984 as a building inspector when it was under the Government’s Crown Lands Department but with his department being separated from what would go on to be run by private agency, Land Property Services, he was content to be part of the totally new town planning department. From there he worked his way up to become a junior building control officer and is currently at the helm of the section. “Building control as such was formerly part of the Ministry of the Environment in the early to mid- 90’s when we were joined by the Town Planner Paul Origo, and we have been working very closely ever since. Under this administration both Planning and Building Control were united, hence the department’s name” recalled Santos. “We’re both governed by different pieces of legislation as they’re empowered by the Town Planning Act and we rely on some sections of the Public Health Act, a very old document that dates back to the 1950s.
“Of that very extensive legislation, Sections 48 and 49 cover building regulation. The rules themselves introduced on 1 June 1984, based on the equivalent UK legislation of 1976, showing just how outdated they are. In fact, I’ve been trying to persuade the government to follow this concept of legislation for many years, since the UK model is very different and more pragmatic than that which we have in Gibraltar, as ours is considered rather draconian in its application.
Another positive move towards the new legislation has been made by the Fire Brigade who engaged the services of a consultant fire engineer to introduce the new Part E to bring it in line with the UK’s Document B. This Part E is now ready to be introduced, given that the final draft is presently in the hands of the Legislation Support Unit for final drafting before its introduction.
“For my part, I am very happy to be in a position to confirm that I have already gone through the preliminary stages of an aspect of the regulations which is currently lacking in our rules, namely the access to buildings for the disabled,” continued the Building Control Officer. “At the moment, what is known in the UK as Part M – access to and use of buildings has never been covered locally. So this is definitely a step in the right direction. It will be however known locally as Part R given that Part M is already a part in the rules that covers heat producing appliances. I can also confirm that currently when plans are drawn up we do encourage architects to design according to Part M, although we cannot enforce it. The technical details for the equivalent of Part M in the UK are therefore ready to be introduced. We are therefore just waiting for the legal procedures to go through to have this introduced.”
Santos said that the average person-in-the-street, often overlooks Building Control although it’s importance in avoiding serious injury and ensuring health & safety is a matter of fact: “Important as the regulations are, planning has more of a public profile as it gets more coverage in the news when the DPC considers all the projects that are coming up all over Gibraltar. But beyond the initial stages, building control is a very important part of the whole process, which perhaps the general public are unaware of because it is not a high profile subject that people are constantly reminded of by news coverage.”
Santos believes that since the DPC became a more open process under the current GSLP/Liberal Government, it has taken a more prominent part in the everyday mind set of the population, while the equally essential work of regulating the building materials and techniques used is somewhat overlooked.
The changing environment also creates different challenges in the enforcement of the rules. Santos told us: “In the last 20 years we have seen a move from the traditional methods of construction with bricks and mortar to a new concept of dry lining, which uses lightweight materials that are more economical and faster to erect. This more modern system of construction is in line with what is currently happening elsewhere in the world. In fact, whilst on holiday in Australia I observed that bricks and mortar were only used for certain aspects of the construction process with substituting bricks for prefabricated materials used in combination with lightweight steel, aluminium and wood encased with plasterboard rather than the more traditional methods. “We are heading in this same direction the market is moving which is why we ought to change the rules to allow these certified materials to be used and keep on pushing Gibraltar forward,” he concluded.