Fellows Article Series

Building Safety (Part 2) – The Gateways

Following the release of Part 1 of the series of articles in which Fellows delve deeper into the Government’s Building Safety Programme, in today’s article, our Associate Director of Project Management – Jonathan Russell – looks more closely at the proposed framework and timing for its delivery and what this could mean for planning across the industry. If you missed the first article in this series, it is available to view on our website here: https://fellowsconsultants.co.uk/2021/07/fellows-article-series/.

I have been encouraged by the positive feedback and resulting discussions I have had with friends and colleagues following the release of Part 1 of this series. Many of you have called me directly to discuss, and not only reflect on what this programme is endeavoring to achieve, but also how embedded these issues are in all aspects of the industry and government policy. At the same time, I have also been intrigued to hear some are either unaware or out of sync with proposed changes. As such, my focus today turns to the more practical, and how these changes will impact us and our working practices. Specifically, what does this new framework look like and what are the timings for its delivery.

As we are now aware, the Bill is the mechanism for an overhaul of our existing system for the development of high-rise residential buildings through providing clearer responsibilities for those building or managing these buildings. The Bill establishes a series of strategic gateways which act as statutory sign-offs, to ensure that safety is considered by all parties during the entire design and construction process. But what do these strategic gateways look like:-

  • Gateway 1 (Planning stage) – At this stage, the Local Planning Authority will determine whether the development is defined as High Rise. A consultation is held with the Building Safety Regulator, alongside the Planning process and permission is granted as necessary. Gateway 1 will place obligations on those who are applying for planning permission, to consider the building height and safety risks at a key stage and prior to the appointment of key duty holders. From August 2021, it will become a requirement for those submitting / seeking consent for a relevant building to provide a Fire Statement as part of the planning application. Likely design input required at this stage will include Architect, Engineer, Principal Designer, M&E consultant, and Fire Engineer.
  • Gateway 2 (Design and construction phase) – At stage 2, in line with best practice, a building control application will be required, and this gateway provides a ‘hard stop’ where construction cannot begin until the Regulator has approved the building control application. Detailed plans and a fire strategy are submitted as part of this application for review and approval. Construction cannot commence until this Gateway is signed off. Likely design input required will include Architect, Engineer, Principal Designer, M&E consultant, Fire Engineer, Building Control Inspector and Specialist Design Disciplines (e.g. Sprinkler & Smoke Vent specialists).
  • Gateway 3 (Building control completion/ final certificate stage) – Gateway 3 demonstrates the robust approach required in respect of quality control and inspections on site. The Regulator can attend site to check ongoing compliance during the works, but it is proposed that the Regulator attends site, inspects and signs off the final works alongside a full submission of inspection documentation (Golden Thread information). The Regulator will issue a Building Safety Certificate which will legally allow occupation, and at this point all handover information must be given over to the person(s) responsible for the building in use (accountable person in occupation). Professional input likely to be required will include Architect, Engineer, Principal Designer, M&E consultant, Fire Engineer, Building Control Inspector, Specialist Design Disciplines and the Estates/Asset Manager.
  • Safety Case Review (Occupation Phase) – Understandably, the Bill also places significant post-completion obligations on the Building Owner / Operator as a key Duty Holder. From completion onwards, the records and documentation are retained by the duty holder, who updates the golden thread as necessary throughout the life of the asset. The duty holder will be responsible for the golden thread of building information, ensuring it is created, maintained, and held digitally throughout the building life cycle to support safety improvements. This process, including the Gateways above, will also restart based on the record information, should any refurbishment works be considered further in the future.

Like all of us, I have interpreted these stages through my own specific experiences, and I sit here reflecting on how and when they will affect me. For those of us involved in planning and project management, these Gateways will require an adjustment and a change in working practice. They will dictate a fundamental understanding of the Bill and will require specific knowledge of the key additional professional services and workflows required to successfully progress through these gateways. Ultimately it may also involve a lengthening of the development programme to account for a further statutory approval.

Although we will touch on the role of Duty Holders in greater detail in a later article, the shift in focus back towards the fundamentals of design and the quality of works on site will, in our opinion, lead to the expansion and re-definition of some well-established existing roles and duties within the project team. Whilst the Bill’s focus is not primarily fire, it will inevitably lead to the expansion of the traditional duties of the fire engineer as the most suitably skilled professional to undertake the new work processes required. For some, the level of site inspection and auditing necessitated by the framework, will also pave the way for the re-introduction of the long-forgotten clerk of works, in the quest to ensure that a robust inspection regime is backed up by a well-documented paper trail whilst on site.

Akin to this re-definition of roles, the Bill will also see the creation of new workflows and tasks that will need to be considered as a fundamental step in the design and planning process. As an example, from August 2021, it will become a requirement for those seeking planning consent for a relevant building to provide a Fire Statement. This new workflow will need to be understood by the consultant team, and from next week Planning Officer’s will be enforcing this as a requirement for planning validation.

Whist the effect on planning applies from next week, it is however, not the time for panic just yet. The Government’s plan for the implementation of the remaining steps of the Building Safety Programme, will not come into effect until the Bill passes through parliament (which is not anticipated until 2022). Thereafter, the government will need time to reflect this new framework in secondary legislation (such as the Fire Safety Order and Building Regulations) before the full regime can be rolled out. There is a useful government transition plan available for review (for those who want to better understand the timescales for this) but my own personal opinion is that the full roll-out of this will not be felt until late 2023 or beyond.

On a positive note, I believe that the programme has already engendered change, a shift towards best practice, and I am aware of a number of consultancies and employers who are embracing the changes in the right spirit to ensure that they are mirroring the new framework ahead of time. Encouragingly, they have the where with all to understand the commercial and financial benefits and not just the moral implications for working towards best practice. It remains to be seen whether this Gateway approach, which ushers in a significant shift in working practices, will also lead to major disruption in planning and project delivery. Only time will tell.  

Look out for the third instalment of this series next week, where we will look to consider the Duty Holder’s under the Bill and assess what impact this is likely to have on relevant parties. Please keep a look out for this in the coming weeks, and if you enjoyed the content of this article then please do not hesitate to share with your connections on LinkedIn. If you have any queries about the content of this article, or believe you could benefit from an informal discussion with one of our team, then please do not hesitate to get in touch. Please contact – Jonathan Russell, Associate Director, Fellows Construction Consultants via email on jr@fellowsconsultants.co.uk.

Photograph © Alex Danila