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Building Safety Act: rebalancing procurement and programme

Words:
Dieter Bentley-Gockmann

Responding to changes in the Building Regulations, here’s how architects bring design certainty to the front of the process by engaging suppliers and clients early

Will procurement practices have to change? Abell and Cleland House in Westminster where EPR Architects worked with DSDHA Architects two 12-storey buildings of apartments.
Will procurement practices have to change? Abell and Cleland House in Westminster where EPR Architects worked with DSDHA Architects two 12-storey buildings of apartments. Credit: Luca Miserocchi

The changes to the Building Regulations which came into effect in October 2023, following the Building Safety Act, are already affecting approaches to the procurement and programming of projects, particularly those involving higher-risk building (HRB) work. This is deliberate. Judith Hackitt identified systemic failures perpetuated by procurement processes that seek to design and construct buildings faster and more cheaply, at the expense of quality and safety. Hackitt stated that ‘improving the procurement process will play a large part in setting the tone for any construction project. This is where the drive for quality and good outcomes, rather than lowest cost, must start.’

The government has made it clear that implemention of  amendments to the Building Regulations is intended to create a legal framework, with statutory duties and sanctions, that drives the behavioural changes envisaged by Hackitt. This intention is clearly being championed by the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) charged with responsibility for overseeing the new regime on the government’s behalf.

The impact of regulatory change on the time, cost, quality triangle for procurement is already being felt for projects seeking building control approval under the new regime, especially those involving HRB work, subject to the gateway approval process.  The combined impact of the ‘hard stop’ stipulated for BSR approval of the design of HRB work before construction starts; the strict statutory procedures for managing change control during construction; and the potential programme implications of having to seek BSR approval for changes, are leading many to question whether some common procurement routes are still fit for purpose.

Early engagement with the supply chain How do we move to design it right first time? Riverlight at Nine Elms in London with RSHP and EPR Architects as executive architect.
Early engagement with the supply chain How do we move to design it right first time? Riverlight at Nine Elms in London with RSHP and EPR Architects as executive architect. Credit: Terrence Zhang

Forms of procurement

Industry leaders and commentators, including clients and contractors that are alert to the changes, are starting to assess whether the time and cost advantages typical of design and build or construction management procurement will continue to be realised under the new regulatory regime. In fact, Neil Hope-Collins of the Building Safety Regulator has said the industry needs to recalibrate procurement mindsets from ‘design and build’ to ‘design then build’.

At EPR Architects, we are discussing this change in mindset with all our clients. At the outset of new projects, we are making sure our clients are aware of their new duties – in particular, their client duty – to ensure we, and all the designers on the project, have enought time and resources to fulfil our duties. Emphasising the team’s need for sufficient time to prepare and co-ordinate design, relating to the Building Regulations, is vital to secure building control approval before construction starts.

To enable us to maximise the potential of this design collaboration, we anticipate that it will be necessary to rebalance some project programmes

Right first time

We are advising our clients and their project managers of the procurement and programming changes we consider necessary to discharge our collective duty ensuring the regulatory compliance of projects. We are discussing the risks and opportunities of adopting a ‘design it once and design it right first time’ approach to all our projects, not just those involving HRB work. Explaining the need for our design to comply with the Building Regulations and producing evidence that it does for the building control authority requires a team effort, including advice, support and design by specialist sub-contractors and suppliers.

Early engagement with supply chain

In many instances, we will be unable to do this unless our clients engage the supply chain sufficiently early in the design process, ideally during RIBA Work Stage 3 Spatial Co-ordination but certainly by the time Stage 4 Technical Design begins in earnest. So we are discussing with clients the advantages of earlier contractor involvement, using pre-service contract and direct supply agreements between our clients and trade contractors, to ensure we have access to the appropriate expertise before preparing a Building Regulations approval application. We also explain the advantage of retaining this expertise during the construction phase to avoid costly and time-consuming design changes during RIBA Work Stage 5 Manufacture and construction.

Working the procurement and programme issues through with clients is critical. Royal Docks West is a 20-storey tower in the Royal Victoria Docks, Newham, London by EPR Architects for Mount Anvil.
Working the procurement and programme issues through with clients is critical. Royal Docks West is a 20-storey tower in the Royal Victoria Docks, Newham, London by EPR Architects for Mount Anvil. Credit: Simon Kennedy

Rebalance project programmes

To maximise the potential of this design collaboration, we anticipate a need to rebalance some project programmes, extending the pre-construction period to accommodate a longer design phase before building control approval and the start of construction. For more technical complex projects and those involving HRB work, more time is likely to be required for all the designers to complete their design and ensure it and the design interfaces are properly co-ordinated. This includes time to prepare and co-ordinate documentary evidence of compliance with the Building Regulations for approval by the relevant authority. This more rigorous design process should shorten the construction period, as it should result in fewer errors or omissions in the construction information and fewer changes during construction.

Resistance and risk

Not unsurprisingly, we are meeting with some resistance, particularly from those less familiar with the details of the new regime, who are not convinced current procurement practices need to change. This is more common for non-HRB work, where the new regime remains more flexible when it comes to the process of seeking design approval before construction. However, if a business-as-usual approach to procurement leaves too little time to complete our design, or to properly consider proposed variations to it, before the construction of enabling works, then there is a foreseeable risk that the completed work will not comply with the relevant requirements of the Building Regulations. This risks the relevant building control authority exercising its increased power to impose sanctions, including stop notices and instructing the opening up and rectification of non-compliant work, leading to more cost and project delays.

As Judith Hackitt acknowledged, some will fear that the regulatory changes will slow down project delivery, but as she states in the foreword to her report: ‘There is every reason to believe that the opposite will be true. More rigour and oversight at the front end of the process can lead to significant increases in productivity, reduction in ongoing costs and to better outcomes of all in the latter and ongoing stages of the process’. 

Dieter Bentley-Gockmann is director, legal and technical services at EPR Architects and author of the RIBA Health and Safety Guide and RIBA Principal Designer’s Guide

 

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