Building a safer future

Almost two years after the conflagration at Grenfell Tower that claimed 72 lives, the government has published a far-reaching consultation on how we build and operate multi-occupancy residential buildings. Hywel Davies outlines some of the more challenging proposals

Building a Safer Future, a consultation on proposals to reform the building safety regulatory system, was published on 6 June. It is the next stage in implementing the independent review of building regulations and fire safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt.

There is concern about the slow progress in addressing Dame Judith’s review, but the consultation suggests significant thought and work behind the scenes. It covers almost 100 pages, with 90 pages of supporting annexes.

The proposals deliberately go beyond the narrow focus on high-rise residential buildings. While Dame Judith’s terms of reference limited her scope, she repeatedly called for her recommendations to be applied more widely than residential buildings more than 30m in height. Government has lowered the threshold to 18m and is consulting on exactly which buildings should be covered. Tucked away are three proposals that could radically change the way we work.

A new building safety regulator

Fundamental to the reforms is the creation of a new building safety regulator – which goes beyond Dame Judith’s recommendations. The regulator will oversee the design, construction and management of buildings effectively and robustly, enforcing the new, stricter regime for buildings that fall within its remit, with possible criminal sanctions. It will also be responsible for: the regulations; overseeing the competence, throughout their working lives, of those working on buildings; and operating registers of competent people and licensed buildings.

Sign-off at handover

Dame Judith proposed a series of gateways for projects within her scope. The proposals for Gateway two include a requirement for the new regulator to approve the full plans – including a digital model and full fire-safety strategy – before work can begin. Gateway three sets preconditions for handover.

For multi-occupied residential buildings of 18m or more, the contractor will be required to hand over safety information about the final, as-built building before occupation is permitted. This information includes the original full plans and agreed deviations; the Construction Control Plan; a digital record of the building as built; and an updated Fire and Emergency File from Gateway two.

It is intended that this package, which forms a key part of the ‘golden thread’ of information about the building and its management, will be handed to the client. It will also form the basis for the safety case for ongoing occupation of the building.

As well as providing this package, the contractor and the designer will be responsible for verifying compliance with the regulations. It is proposed to require ‘the principal contractor to produce a final declaration with the principal designer, confirming that the building complies with Building Regulations and that this documentation has been handed back to the client’.

“The designer can’t risk their PI insurance on a declaration they cannot make with confidence”

This is radical. No more will contractors be able to say ‘building control signed it off’, as the answer will be ‘you signed a declaration that it complied, and you delivered a digital model’. If the designer has to make the declaration, they cannot disappear from the scene at Gateway two: they have to be involved in the building process on site. They can’t, realistically, risk their PI insurance – and, indeed, the registration of their competent professionals – on a declaration they cannot make with confidence.

It also raises some interesting questions about commissioning. Commissioning is not a bit of good-practice guidance in the Approved Documents – it’s a statutory requirement in Regulation 44 of the Building Regulations. The designer and contractor will now have to declare that the regulations, including the one on commissioning, have been satisfied.

Of course, the unscrupulous could just declare they have and be done, but another radical provision is for the new building safety regulator to become a prescribed person under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA). This legislation protects workers from victimisation by their employer when making disclosures in the public interest, and is more commonly known as ‘whistleblowing protection’.

This suggests a clear understanding that people may have to speak up and risk trouble by telling the regulator what is really happening on a project.


Underpinning much of the new regime is a requirement for competent people. The proposals anticipate a register of those deemed competent to work on buildings in scope.

The Industry Response Group’s competence steering committee will report shortly on the work it has completed since May 2018. The clear ambition is to ensure that those who work on multi-occupancy residential buildings are competent, with a clear threat that those who do not follow the new rules may lose their registration.

This all signals a significant change of approach to building safety from the very much more laissez-faire, market-led approach of the past 35 years. This consultation is not the work of a few moments, but signals a determination to drive real and lasting change in our sector. Between now and 31 July we have a chance to give our views.

Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts on the consultation via the CIBSE website – it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for you to have your say.