FIS CEO Iain McIlwee reports on the Building Safety Regulators Conference held on Wednesday 22 March.

This Wednesday I attended a full day conference organised by the Building Safety Regulator, along with around a thousand people from across construction and property management.  There was a lot to digest, but the key point is that, whilst there is still much to be done, they are sticking to the original implementation timeline.  The Regulator becomes fully active next month with the Registration of occupied High-Risk Buildings becoming mandatory.  This is significant as it brings greater and clearer responsibility on individuals to ensue that a building is safe and there is a plan in place to keep it that way and it reminds us all that people are at the heart of building safety.

The next key point and they finished with this to emphasise, is that The Building Safety Act is not just about high-risk buildings.  For these there is an enhanced oversight system being put in place by way of Gateways.  For all other buildings, the key recommendations set down in the consultation will be carried through in secondary regulation – still a bit of parliamentary scrutiny required, so not set in stone, but basically the alignment of Building Safety with the existing CDM requirements is critical.  These changes are focussed on cultural change in and tighter controls for construction.  The phrase used was from Shed to Shard

What does it mean if you are working on High Risk Buildings?

Get your head around Gateways.  If working on High Risk Buildings, familiarise yourself with the additional information requirements at Gateway 2 (i.e. how are you going to convince the Regulator that you have a workable design and effective delivery/information management plan) and Gateway 3 (prove that you stuck to and built it as per the plan).  Photographic evidence will be key – the regulator will want reassurance that the stuff they can’t see was done right – controls and procedures are in place to manage the process, competence and communication.  Any changes on the fly will need to be documented, and in many cases, approved by the regulator before progressing.  The Regulator will want to see buildability considered to limit the need for change on site.

Buildings will be required to go through these Gateways from October.  A cautionary tale was that 50% of Buildings did not meet Gateway 1 (Planning and Fire Plan) requirements.  The Regulator is primarily interested in fire and structure, but we were repeatedly reminded that meeting all of the Building Regulations is a requirement.  They expect the process to be dynamic between the Gateways to minimise any hold ups, but these are hold points, hard stops.

The key to making it through the Gateways is evidence, evidence, evidence.  A number of the discussions centred on what Stage (according to the Plan of Works) the design is expected to be at before you can proceed through Gateway 2.  In one of the presentations it was confirmed that design should be completed to Stage 4 (Technical Design) before you can go through the Gateway and Stage 5 (Construction) can begin.  There was mention of the series of gateways, but my impression was that whilst the regulations do make allowances for exceptions, exceptions should be that.   To emphasise this the impact of design changes on weight was used as an example.  If you don’t know how you are building it, how can you fully understand and detail the loadings?

Will it really have much impact on the wider building sector?

Emphatically Yes – in fact this was a big part of the summing up.  Effectively this is not a change to the Building Regulations, but a massive change to the regime and processes expected to evidence compliance.  Building Control is being subjected to wholesale change, a much more robust competency regime with greater emphasis on process.  Greater granularity is to be expected – their focus will be on competence, control and evidence.  We can expect more testing questions as Approved Inspectors become Registered Building Control Inspectors and are subjected to more independent scrutiny and tighter controls.  The process will be very much aligned to the existing CDM Regulations and “as built”.  Within this, the statutory duty holder roles will apply to all projects.  The Principal Designer (PD) role got a fair bit of attention and it was clearly news to some that this statutory role relates to all projects – significantly the PD will be accountable and need to provide confirmation that the requirements of the building regulations have been met.

There are still a few things to iron out, one issue discussed was whether CDM and Building Safety could be separated and administered by two PD’s (in theory yes, but the intent seems to be that one PD should be the norm).  Another question asked was whether this would mark the end of D&B.  It doesn’t, the regulation are being written to allow, but it should be the death knoll for design and dump – with the PD and Designer Roles so closely regulated I simply can’t see how scope of design can be limited in the way we often see it now.

The key for Contractors is to ensure they can demonstrate competence – that is confidence that individuals have the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours necessary and organisational capability (management policies, procedures, systems and resources) to meet the requirements of the building regulations.

Other key takeaways

It was encouraging to hear the FIS work in helping to establish the Passive Fire Knowledge Group recognised in one of the panel discussions as a good example of taking responsibility and trying to align the supply chain to confront issues before we get to them.  It was also good to hear the work we have done on developing competency frameworks acknowledged and the whole super system concept that we have been focussed on getting a mention with the finishes and interiors talked about in this context.

From the perspective of the new building control procedures, all of this will come at a cost – the term “cost recoverable” was used to describe the work of the regulator.  If you are planning jobs for the future, do have a think about the additional costs in terms of compliance and potential fees.  Significantly if you are working on High Risk Buildings, double check contracts for causes of delay too.

The final and heavily reinforced message was don’t wait, start making changes.  The words “ongoing”, “transition”, “looking into that” and “in progress” were all used and there is a realisation that there is still much to be done.  All the detail isn’t yet in hand, but this will come in the secondary regulation over the coming months (it will be subject to Parlimentary scrutiny which may change and possibly delay aspects), but Regulator is scaling up and the direction of travel set down in the consultation in October doesn’t seem to have been diverted far so it is time to get cracking!

Useful Links to help you start preparing:

  1. FIS Summary of response to the October consultation of reforms to the Building Regulations
  2. FIS Guide to Developing a Competency Management Plan
  3. BuildUK Guide to the Building Safety Act (Available to FIS Members Only)
  4. Start looking at your quality management procedures – FIS PPP Quality Risk Management Toolkit