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Building Safety Act: how has a large architecture practice adapted to the new regime?

From appointments and the Principal Designer role to Gateway 2 submissions, learn how one architecture practice is dealing with new changes to the Building Safety Act.

22 February 2024

It has been almost six months since secondary legislation for the Building Regulations came into law in England. To mark this anniversary, we’re checking in with practices of different sizes from around the country to see how they’ve been adapting to what was described by some as the biggest change to working in the profession since the 1980s.

What have they found easiest to adapt to? What have been the challenges? And what have been the solutions?

Here, we present one large practice's perspective on the regulatory regime that came into force on 1 October 2023 and is moving rapidly through the transitional provision gears to 6 April (2024).

Next week, we'll be discussing the regime with a medium-sized practice and then, finally, a smaller-sized practice.

How did Scott Brownrigg prepare for the Building Safety Act?

Neal Morgan-Collins, who heads up the Design Delivery Unit, a brand of Scott Brownrigg, says the practice has been transitioning and adapting for the. regulations, and particularly for the Principal Designer role, for the last two years.

He says that everyone who has any sort of leadership role within the practice has been undertaking large amounts of CPD to arm themselves with as much knowledge as possible and to make the transition to the new roles as smoothly as they can.

Part of the practice’s preparation for the new regime saw it become active in the regulations-related technical forums, and engaging in dialogue with leading clients, contractors and independent building control officers.

Meanwhile, project teams themselves have had to be restructured to align with resourcing needed for extensive documentation, so that the right information can be delivered at the right time.

Any good lead consultant will – and should - have had good design, planning and management systems in place prior to the regulations. But Neal says there is now a new emphasis on internal audits and lists of mandatory checks that must happen – and be updated – on every project. He says the challenge is to make this culture of checking for compliance become second nature for everyone.

Read more about how to sign up to RIBA’s Principal Designer Register.

Neal and his Scott Brownrigg colleagues have prepared for the new regime for two years. (Photo: Scott Brownrigg)

The challenges posed by Gateway 2 submissions in the Building Safety Act

Neal says that a real piece of learning for the practice, which is still ongoing, is what documentation should look like for a Gateway 2 submission for a high-risk building (HRB), after which the regulator gets a 12 week determination period.

Prior to the new regulations, an architect would provide information for the purpose of tendering and construction. Now documentation must provide a demonstration of what an architect is trying to achieve in compliance terms, he explains.

“We make sure that specialists come in to undertake reviews and that the right type of workshops (that focus purely on building control and strategies to achieve compliance) are held at the right time,” he continues.

Another new challenge is ensuring that documentation is written so that it will prevent contractors and sub-contractors from making discretionary changes on-site.

“This means that documentation must specify limits and tolerances and ensure that contractors are always working within constraints that will maintain compliance,” Neal adds. “Our challenge here is to work out a smart way of articulating this without writing chapter and verse on every drawing.”

Gateway 2 requirements include both a construction control plan and a change control plan. He says that the large contractors and developers that Scott Brownrigg often works with on large projects already have their own change control processes in place.

This is clearly helpful, Neal says. The task for the Principal Designer is to make sure these processes are being used at the right time and with all the information recorded in a place where everyone on the project team can access it. Tweaking these existing processes can be done to turn them into better templates for compliance purposes.

Want to read more about the Building Safety Act?

These professional features from the RIBA Practice team should help build a little more confidence in your part of the new regulatory regime in England:

Any good lead consultant will – and should - have had good design, planning and management systems in place prior to the Regulations. (Photo: Unsplash)

The Building Safety Act and the Principal Designer role

Scott Brownrigg is acting as Principal Designer for Building Regulations on HRBs and non-HRBs. It has also taken on the Principal Designer role on projects where it is not the architect because the lead architect has told the client that they were not equipped internally to do it or had been advised by their insurer to decline the role.

Practices might be interested to know that Scott Brownrigg always seeks a separate appointment as Principal Designer, whether or not they are the project architect, just as it always has done with Principal Designer for CDM regulations in the past.

Different insurers have been giving conflicting advice to practices over Principal Designer duties, Neal says. He says he does not doubt that Scott Brownrigg’s willingness to take on the role and to explain how they will approach it has gone down well with prospective clients.

Read more about RIBA's PI insurance guide and where to download it.

What is the biggest concern with the Building Safety Act?

The practice’s biggest concern, Neal suggests, is how consistent the Building Safety Regulators will be over the imminent Gateway 2 process for HRBs. Practices must submit a complete pack of information they believe demonstrates compliance for the whole project and then wait a minimum of 12 weeks for a decision.

There are no templates out there for the different elements that make up a submission, and currently, practices are having to develop their own.

Architects are used to getting questions from building control inspectors that differ on each project and therefore being asked for evidence of compliance that is different on each project. There has always been some interpretation of regulations by individual inspectors that will usually point to a suggested solution, he says.

“We are just going to have to see how it works for the first few projects, learn how much information will satisfy the regulator for compliance, and take it from there,” he concludes.

Thanks to Neal Morgan-Collins - Design Delivery Unit, Scott Brownrigg.

Text by Neal Morris and the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum topic: Legal, regulatory and statutory compliance.

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, professional features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD core curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as a RIBA Chartered Member.

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