Colin Blatchford-Brown is a Building Safety Act specialist advisor at Assent
Following its introduction after the Grenfell Tower tragedy of 2017, the Building Safety Act (BSA) 2022 aims to give residents confidence that the higher-risk building (HRB) in which they live is safe. This is established at the planning, design and construction stages of such buildings, with projects needing to pass through ‘gateways’ put in place by the Building Safety Regulator (BSR).
The three main functions of the BSR as a whole are: oversight of the built environment; to improve the competence of those working on all buildings; and to oversee a new regulatory regime specifically for HRBs.
Until the BSR has approved plans at each gateway, an HRB project cannot continue. So, what needs to be confirmed at each gateway stage for the project to progress?
Gateways one and two
The first hold point to pass is at the planning application stage. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the statutory consultee for in-scope buildings at this point and provides comments to local planning authorities in relation to submitted planning applications.
The main dutyholder at the planning phase is the client. At this phase, they must describe how they intend to plan, manage and monitor the project and engage with a building-control inspector – soon to be registered building inspectors (RBIs) – as they begin providing information to every designer and contractor. This is required at Gateway one and a project cannot progress through to Gateway two without this information.
Other dutyholders on the project are the principal designer and the principal contractor. They are required to plan, monitor and manage the project, as well as ensure compliance with building regulations and ensure cooperation and information-sharing between contractors. They also liaise with each other across the project’s duration.
It is essential to review how the scheme will be constructed, manage change, and meet and evidence the functional requirements of building regulations.
This gathering of information is for the building’s golden thread. This acts as a record of all things related to the building and effectively becomes its ‘single source of the truth’ to be made available to people who need information to carry out work on the building. This needs to be kept digitally, securely and presented in a way people can use. It is explicitly required at Gateway three.
Since 1 October 2023, a building control approval application must be approved by the BSR before: building work commences on a new HRB; the creation of an HRB via change in use of an existing building; or building work is undertaken on an existing HRB. This application must include prescribed documents, comprehensive design information, statutory consultations and information about dutyholders.
If the application isn’t approved by the BSR, the project cannot continue.
Gateways two to three
With the green light given, construction can commence. The BSR will guide the inspection schedule for the project, which will examine, at regular intervals, change-control applications and notifications as well as statutory consultations. These will be carried out by multidisciplinary teams made up of an RBI and other specialists in the various, complex areas of such construction projects, to ensure effective regulatory decisions are made and input any requirements or conditions which may be applied to an approval.
Mandatory occurrence reporting is a key factor as construction progresses. It allows the BSR to capture any risks that could have a potential impact on fire and structural safety and assess the relevance of these risks to other buildings.
Again, evidence collated at this stage is used within the golden thread, which is required at Gateway three.
Once the client is satisfied that the building is complete, it is time to satisfy the regulator of the same status for the building. Before it can be occupied, an application for a completion certificate must be made and the certificate obtained. This confirms that the final build matches the plans, the building’s prescribed documents, the dutyholder’s declaration of contractor competency, and further inspections and statutory consultations.
When a completion certificate is granted, the building can then be registered with the BSR. This needs to happen before anyone can occupy the HRB – it is a criminal offence if an HRB is occupied without this registration.
Registration also requires assessment of the building’s safety risks and case. Its safety case provides all the information used to manage the risk of fire spread and structural failure, which then informs a report outlining major fire and structural hazards and demonstrates how the risks are managed and controlled. Key building information goes into the golden thread, including fire and smoke controls, fire doors, external walls and the building use.
At this stage, the accountable person (AP) or principal accountable person (PAP) takes up their duties. This is an individual or organisation that has a legal obligation to repair common parts of the building, like its structure, corridors or staircases. The PAP has the same responsibility but can be an organisation such as a commonhold association, a social housing provider or a local authority.
Despite the introduction of secondary legislation, projects can continue under the current framework if they meet a set of transitional provisions.
There are two key criteria. Applicants must have an initial notice in place before 1 October 2023 and HRB work must also be sufficiently progressed before 6 April 2024.
Subject to these and additional criteria, a project can continue with an approved inspector through to completion without having to pass through Gateways two and three. You will, however, need to make sure you register an HRB before occupation, and ensure you have a golden thread of information and are aware of the relevant building safety risks now – don’t wait until the end of a project. If the project does not meet the transitional provisions, it will transfer to the BSR.