We have more clarity on the Principal Design role but not on how these individuals will be trained. This is likely to create barriers to delivery, writes Andrew Mellor

Andrew Mellor_PRP_crop

The proposed Principal Designer role related to Building Regulations compliance is one that we all need to understand, as it will have far reaching implications for all projects where a Building Regulations application is required. The new role has been created by the amendment of the Building Act 1984 via the Building Safety Act. It applies to all projects where building work is being undertaken. There are also increased requirements for the role where a project includes one or more higher risk buildings.

Effectively, there could now be two Principal Designers on a project, one for CDM and one for Building Regulations compliance. It is feasible that the same individual or organisation could provide both roles. This has the propensity to cause confusion although it seems unlikely that the traditional health and safety-focussed CDM Principal Designer will have the required knowledge and experience to undertake the new Building Regulations role.

The main role of the Principal Designer (Building Regulations) is to plan, manage and monitor the design prior to works starting on site to ensure that the design complies with the Building Regulations. The recent DLUHC consultation document associated with the new changes to the Building Regulations process sets out that the new Principal Designer (PD) role can be carried out by individuals or organisations but each must have the required competency, skills and established management processes.

Perhaps on small scale projects the role could be undertaken by a sole practitioner or small company

The competence requirements set out in the same document recognise that it may be a team with complimentary sets of expertise which delivers the new PD role. This, for me, is the only way that the role is capable of being undertaken for larger projects.

Perhaps on small scale projects the role could be undertaken by a sole practitioner or small company. But it would seem that for larger more complex projects a multi-disciplinary team is required with at least a thorough knowledge of all Building Regulations, including fire safety requirements. We are likely to see architects and project managers offering the new service, but they will undoubtedly have to upskill.

Competency guidance has been published by British Standards in the form of BSI Flex 8670, which covers the required core competencies for those working in building safety roles. In addition, PAS 8671.22 addresses specific competence thresholds that individuals are expected to meet when managing the dutyholder functions of the Principal Designer role.

It is expected that third party providers will develop accredited training programmes

The latter sets out the minimum threshold competency needs of the PD but does not provide the required level of detail for one to be able to gain and establish that level of competency. It is expected that third party providers will develop accredited training programmes and establish subsequent associated registers of qualified Principal Designers.

It is proposed for projects with higher risk buildings that the new PD will be responsible at design stage for collating the Golden Thread pack of information before handing it over to the Principal Contractor. In addition, they will also be responsible for Mandatory Reporting in relation to the design following a project’s receipt of Building Control Approval (which has been referred to as Gateway 2 although this term may disappear).

Therefore, I assume that this mandatory reporting relates to post-application design changes which affect the structural or fire performance of the building to such a degree that there could be a resultant incident involving significant numbers of fatalities or major injuries. For projects including higher-risk buildings, the new Principal Designer has to provide a signed compliance declaration at the Completion Certificate Application stage (Gateway 3 - a term which may also disappear), which states that all reasonable steps were taken to meet their statutory duties. This implies that this new PD will work for the Client dutyholder for the duration of the design and construction stages.

…there is much for the industry and its advisors to do in preparation for the change

As the above proposals are still being finalised by the Government we are yet to understand what the full impact of the changes will be - including the precise terminology to be used. Regardless, the changes to working practice are significant.

We can expect that standard appointment documents will have to be amended, that the Design and Build procurement route will not be the same, that PII insurers will need to consider whether they will offer related insurance cover and that those wanting to provide the new PD service will have to train & recruit staff as well as develop their management processes and on-going training programmes. With the anticipated introduction of the PD role being later in 2023, there is much for the industry and its advisors to do in preparation for the change.

So, as we await the final details of the statutory role and the availability of competency accreditation schemes, we have a little time to consider the implications for the industry and our business operations and whether we have both the competency and indeed the stomach to provide this service. Someone will have to step up to offer the service but there may be few providers at the outset, which will of course be a barrier to project delivery.