Single stage approvals processes and more design information up front will extend programmes and drive up costs, writes Andrew Mellor

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The recently published consultation on the new building control regime for high-risk buildings (likely to be multi-occupancy residential, care homes and hospitals over 18m or 7 storeys and above) gives us greater insight into the impact of the new approvals process on project delivery timescales.

It is proposed that relevant buildings are fully designed with respect to Building Regulations compliance before the Building Control Approval Application is made. The exception will be complex buildings which can follow a staged application process. Work cannot proceed on site until approval has been given by the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) for the full or staged application.

There is no definition of ‘complex’ as yet but it seems that the intention is that most applications will follow the single application route. The result is that much more design work is going to be required prior to the Building Regulations application than is currently the norm. Consequently, staged starts on site are likely to be much less frequent.

The approval process for the Building Control Approval Application will be 12 weeks, which is greater than the 5 weeks (or extended to 2 months with agreement) under the current process. Changes to the design proposal during construction will require formal change control approval from the BSR.

An additional impact is that the as-built drawings and specifications will need to be submitted with the application

Major Change applications will be a 6 week approval process and Notifiable Change applications will be a 10 day process. A major change is, for example, an increase in building height, number of apartments or floorplate size. A notifiable change could be a change of Principal Designer or a change of product with like for like performance.

When the building is complete with respect to Building Regulations compliance work, a Completion Certification Application must be submitted to the BSR. It had been understood that the completion certificate would be no more under this new regime but it seems to have been reintroduced. My presumption is that the BSR has wanted to retain many of the existing approval process titles. Consequently, the new process titles proposed by DLUHC such as ‘Gateways’, have been swept aside in favour of the existing, more familiar terminology.

The proposed time limit for the application period is 12 weeks. Although non Building Regulation related work can continue onsite during this period, it is likely that the duration will prolong building completion and handovers.

An additional impact is that the as-built drawings and specifications will need to be submitted with the application. To me, this suggests as-built drawings being produced as the building is constructed, to reduce the delay to the application submission which would be caused by information being updated post the building completion. Partial completion applications can be made, with the proposed determination timescale for each application set at 12 weeks.

The Completion Certificate issued by the BSR will be, according to the consultation document, evidence of compliance with the Building Regulations, but not conclusive evidence. It is therefore apparent that the responsibility for compliance rests with the client and those consultants and contractors they employ.

The journey does not end there

The journey does not end there, once the Completion Certificate is issued the client or Principal Accountable Person (PAP) if the client is not the PAP, has to formally register the new building with the BSR. The building cannot be occupied until that registration has been completed.

The proposed transitional arrangements are that Full Plans applications or Building Notices must be submitted before the introduction of the new regime and work must start on site within 6 months of that introduction date. This requirement to start on site will apply for each individual high risk building and not just for one building in a multiple high risk building application.

The ‘regime introduction date’ is not clear. It could be the end of April 2023 when the new legislation starts or possibly at the end of October 2023 when the ‘Gateways’ are proposed to be introduced.

If the application and approvals process proceeds as proposed in the consultation documents, the period from submitting the Building Regulations application for a new high risk building to its occupation will be much longer. Although this extended programme was somewhat anticipated by the industry, it is only now that the true impact on programme and costs can be fully understood. Those running the consultation process should therefore undoubtedly expect some rebuttal of the proposals from industry.