A question of competence

The draft Building Safety Bill sets out new requirements for professional competence. Hywel Davies considers proposals in the draft framework

In July, the government published its long-awaited draft Building Safety Bill – a result of the terrible events at Grenfell Tower in June 2017 – which is currently under scrutiny by the Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee.

The 140-page bill, with 119 sections and eight schedules, demonstrates the scale, complexity and detail of the legislative change needed to address the many industry failings identified by the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.

Central to the proposed regime is the new Building Safety Regulator, to implement and enforce a more stringent system for higher-risk buildings and oversee the safety and performance of all buildings.

We must be quite clear about this: there will be a new regulator to oversee the regulations for all buildings, of any kind, and to be responsible for all enforcement action against those who put people’s safety at risk by non-compliance.

The 140-page bill demonstrates the scale, complexity and detail of the legislative change needed to address the many industry failings

There will be powers to imprison serious offenders, to drive better attitudes to compliance. In addition to this new regime for all buildings, the much more stringent requirements will apply to higher-risk buildings.

The draft bill proposes classification of certain buildings ‘of a prescribed description’ as higher risk. This description will be in secondary legislation. While it is expected, initially, to apply to buildings more than 18m in height, or six storeys, with more than one residence, there is a clearly structured mechanism for future broadening or supplementing of this ‘prescribed description’ in Part 1 of the draft bill.

The draft bill underlines the need for further change in industry culture and competence. One general function of the new regulator is to ‘facilitate improvement in the competence of industry and of building inspectors’, with a new industry competence committee. Section 6 requires the regulator to give appropriate ‘assistance and encouragement’ to those in the industry or members of a profession to improve their competence.

The new committee will be responsible for monitoring industry competence and advising the regulator and the industry on competence. It will ‘facilitate persons in the industry to improve industry competence’ and advise the public on how to identify competence.

Statutory roles set out for design, construction and operation of higher-risk buildings may be filled by individuals or organisations. The regulator may prescribe competence requirements for the designer or the contractor, and impose duties on those appointing them to ensure they really are competent. There will be an Approved Document to support these requirements. Clients will be required to signify that they have assessed and are content with the competence of the principal designer and contractor.

To support these new requirements, the British Standards Institution (BSI) is developing new standards on industry competence. An overarching framework for competence will define the overall requirements for competence frameworks in the built environment sector. It is particularly aimed at the competence of those involved with higher-risk buildings, as defined within the legislation – which, as noted above, is likely to expand over time.

While it does not set specific requirements for any given profession, it does specify core characteristics to be included. So it is very relevant to CIBSE, the Engineering Council, or any other relevant body looking to develop or achieve recognition for a relevant competence framework.

It establishes ground rules for bodies responsible for assessment of competence of individuals against any sector-specific competence scheme. The document is out for comment until 20 October; for further details on the Draft Safety Bill see the CIBSE website.

Part 5 of the draft bill amends the Architects Act to make continuing professional development a statutory requirement. This is because ‘architect’ is already a regulated profession and protected title. There must be no doubt that other professions must follow suit, at the very least those wishing to work on higher-risk buildings.

We must prepare for mandatory CPD, and members should be aware of the significant range of CPD materials CIBSE delivers online already. They will be invaluable in preparing for the changes that the draft Building Safety Bill is bringing.