Regulations and guidance

Confusion is rife about what Building Regulations require and what government guidance suggests. Hywel Davies explores the role of Approved Documents and the responsibility for satisfying requirements of the Building Regulations

Although Building Regulations are devolved, there is a system of statutory requirements and supporting government- authored guidance in each of the four nations of the UK.

Those responsible for building work – who could be the designer, builder or an installer – must ensure that their work complies with all applicable requirements of the relevant regulations or standards.

It is important to note that this duty covers all aspects of the regulations, not just those that most obviously relate to the work being done.

So, someone installing cables for electrical or broadband provision may use Approved Document (AD) P or AD R for relevant guidance – but if they penetrate a fire compartment, then the requirement of Part B to firestop that penetration appropriately still apply.

A boiler flue installed in a high-rise dwelling does not only have to comply with Part J, but also with Regulation 7 prohibiting combustible materials in external walls.

The duty is to comply with the regulations, not to follow guidance.

If there is a problem reconciling the guidance with the requirement, the requirement takes priority

The Approved Documents, or Technical Handbooks in some jurisdictions, are there to advise and to guide. The Building Act provides that proof of compliance which demonstrates the guidance has been followed may be relied on as tending to negative liability.

But ADs are guidance, intended to cover more common building situations.

However, there may be alternative ways to achieve compliance with the requirements. You do not have to adopt any particular solution contained in an AD; relevant requirements may be met in some other way.

In other words, you must comply with the regulations, and you may choose to follow the guidance if you wish. This is all fairly straightforward in theory. Yet, in practice, it is far from simple, and causes significant challenges.

Take a recent ‘ban on combustible cladding’. Regulation 7 of the Building Regulations in England covers materials and workmanship.

In December 2018, it was extended to introduce a ban on materials that did not meet a certain standard for resistance to fire from being incorporated in the external walls of residential buildings above 18m high.

This is an explicit regulatory requirement.

It causes significant difficulty in the design and construction of façades, however, triggering significant debate about how the guidance in AD B relates to Regulation 7(2), leading to detailed analysis of the guidance against the regulation.

This misses the key point, though – which is that the regulation must be satisfied. If the guidance helps that, so much the better, but if there is a problem reconciling the guidance with the requirement, the requirement takes priority.

This leads into the second challenge. The Building Regulations were established in their current format in 1985, under the Building Act 1984. This was before several later parts of the regulations – on electrical safety, broadband and access, for example.

It also predates the era of ubiquitous personal and mobile computing, or recognition of the reality of climate change.

In the past 35 years, the regulations and guidance have grown in all jurisdictions, and been devolved in Wales.

The current, consolidated Approved Documents 1 run to 1,274 pages.

The complexity and structure of the guidance was considered during the Hackitt Review, and an Expert Group was set up by government to consider the current suite of ADs. It concluded² that the current set of Approved Documents should evolve into a system of digital guidance, with current guidance rationalised, updated and renamed to make the system of guidance clearer and more accessible, consistent and appropriate for modern construction and information technology.

The group called for the new approach to give clarity on the legal requirements and to confirm what the statutory guidance is, and recommended that the guidance be made more user-friendly and digitally accessible.

It also called for a manual, to give overarching guidance 3 on the regulatory requirements in the Building Act and the Building Regulations, and how they fit with the functional requirements.

As the new Building Safety Regulator takes responsibility for the Building Regulations in England, there is an opportunity for these reforms to take  place. They will be another aspect of the radical changes that the Building Safety Bill promises, along with a new approach to competence, building control and enforcement.


  1. Building Regulations and Approved Documents index, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2020.
  2. Final report of the Expert Group on Structure of Guidance to the Building Regulations, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, April 2020.
  3. Manual to the Building Regulations, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2020.
  • Dr Hywel Davies is technical director at CIBSE