BD’s expert columnist explains how the new hurdles to getting projects over the line will work

Andrew Mellor_PRP_crop

The Ministry of Housing published its consultation document, Building a Safer Future: Proposals for Reform of the Building Safety Regulatory System, this month. The document is the government’s response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building regulations and fire safety.

As I have written before, in my opinion the proposals it contains would constitute the biggest change that the development and construction industry has faced in decades.

The proposed changes to legislation and the process for operating the new regulatory system are complex and will, with absolutely no doubt, change the way all businesses operate if they are involved in designing, constructing, operating or maintaining a high-risk residential building (HRRB).

My practice, PRP, welcomes the changes and we are already considering the impacts on our business, the potential benefits and how we respond to the new regulatory environment.

Assuming all the proposals are introduced, here are the ones I believe will be more relevant to readers.

:: The changes relate to new and existing residential buildings over 18m. For some this will be a surprise as Hackitt recommended the starting point was buildings over 30m. This brings a lot more buildings into scope – and ultimately it may include all buildings with sleeping accommodation.

:: A number of dutyholder roles will be formally established including the principal designer and principal contractor. Each of these will have to co-sign, prior to the occupation of the building, to state that it is compliant with building regulations. With the threat of financial and criminal sanctions each of these dutyholders is going to have to take extreme care. This poses a question of whether professional indemnity insurers will provide cover for such roles? And will premiums be commercially sustainable?

The principal designer role is not the same as we currently know it under the CDM regulations (so perhaps the new title should be changed to avoid confusion?). Instead it is a multi-skilled role which in my opinion cannot be undertaken by one discipline, so we are likely to need multi-skilled teams within practices to deliver it. Clients may look to architects or project managers to provide the service. It’s a role which will run from work stage 0 to stage 6, so how the principal designer will be appointed and by whom at the various work stages will need careful consideration.

:: A 3D model of buildings will be required. This of course is business as usual for many designers and main contractors but given that the models will have to be viewed and stored by both the new industry Building Safety Regulator and the accountable person (ie the building owner), then there is a need for suitable hardware and software, for skilled internal resource and for large data storage capacity, all of which many building owners do not currently have. Therefore, time and financial expenditure will need to be incurred by each dutyholder in the HRRB process to ensure they have the ability to accept, use, store and maintain 3D models.

>> Also read: The impact of the government’s response to Hackitt will be massive


:: In scope, construction products will be identifiable through labelling and a declaration of performance will enable specifiers to confidently establish the product performance. I personally welcome all of this given the difficulties we have had recently trying to, on behalf of building owners, identify products that have been installed on building facades. There will also be a national product regulator to police the implementation of the related legislation.

Of course, any new legislation takes time to introduce and that related to the Building a Safer Future document will be no different, albeit there is an urgency given the pressure on government following the Grenfell tragedy and the time that has since elapsed.

The consultation document states that once the legislation has been introduced any project that has not proceeded through one of the three formal gateways will have to provide the required information and documentation to get formal approval from the Building Safety Regulator for the next gateway.

So if your project is now at detailed design stage, then gateway 2 information would have to be prepared and formally submitted before work could commence on site. If the project is on site, gateway 3 information would have to be prepared and formally submitted before the building could be occupied.

What this means is that we will all have to look forward, anticipate and prepare for the changes, otherwise HRRB projects could be stalled by the need to prepare the gateway information. There are clear cost and programme implications here for clients and their consultant teams with more red tape which, unfortunately, is badly needed in our industry as we react to the lessons learned from the Grenfell tragedy.