Contractors can start building tower blocks with some gaps in design details under the new building safety regime, the regulator in charge has said.
In a webinar explaining how the new rules for higher-risk buildings (HRBs) will work under the regime starting in April, Neil Hope-Collins, the operational policy lead for HRB building control authority at the Building Safety Regulator, said the regulator will allow for “holes” in designs when they are signed off.
The comments have sparked discussion on LinkedIn, with some commentators claiming they signal a change in messaging and a “watering down” of the regulator’s requirements.
Hope-Collins said: “There will legitimately be part of the design that I think of as ‘holes’ in the design. There are bits that you legitimately can’t have the detail for yet because that’s six years down the line.
“The standards, the contractors, may change. Technology may move on. You don’t know how that bit of the hole is going to be filled.”
Using sprinkler systems as an example, he said: “Do we expect the fine detail of the last work of the piping for the sprinkler systems at the outset? Well, that’s probably not reasonable for you to be giving us.”
However, the regulator will check whether designs at gateway two, which has to be passed through before building work can start, contain “sufficient detail around the parameters of the system”.
He said: “For the sprinkler system, do you know where your water supply is coming from? If you’ve got a header tank, are you confident that the building can structurally hold the weight of the water? Do you know what the emergency supply is going to be like? Do you know what the flow rates should be to provide the protection that you expect?
“Those parameters that surround the hole in your design need to be clear enough that we, [and] you, can be clear that whatever happens within the hole in that design, the building will still be legal.”
Hope-Collins added that the regulator would need to examine the detail of the missing parts of any design at a later stage.
He said: “You have acknowledged, and we know, there’s a gap in the design. Fill that lead bit in later and you can’t start work on that bit until you’ve filled in the design and we’ve signed it off.”
However, the regulator will “still need probably more [information] than people have been used to providing to date”, Hope-Collins added.
In a discussion on LinkedIn, Adam Hopkins, senior technical manager at Peabody, said: “This appears to contrast with the messaging to date, and the notion that the design must be ‘all but complete’ at gateway two.
“Over the past months and years, I’ve participated in and observed conversations between professionals where the debate is about how all this [design] work will get completed before gateway two. I’ve seen people talking about specifying the very last fixing in an assembly (which, by the way, I think probably *is* too far).
“If the messaging hasn’t changed, then how has – some of (!) – the industry managed to so radically misinterpret the expectations of the regulator?”
Iain McIlwee, chief executive of trade body Finishes and Interiors Sector, said the BSR’s comments signalled “a worrying watering down of the interpretation of regulation”.
He said: “I worry that the vague references to a plan of works that skits over key details and [is] based on loose definitions means it is becoming increasingly remote from the actual process of construction.”
Elsewhere in the webinar, Andrew Moore, head of operations planning and building control at the BSR, said that the regulator was preparing for a large number of applications for HRBs in April.
He said that no new applications for HRBs had been submitted since the new system was turned on in October.
From April, only buildings that are “sufficiently progressed” will be dealt with under the old rules, Moore said.
“And that’s going to be a challenge, because, what that means is we’ve gone from a small number to a large number all coming in effectively at once.
“So we are at the moment working with those building control bodies who have a significant number of new-build projects, to actually think how we can flatten that curve, so that we aren’t dealing… with a spike at one period.
“We’re [thinking about] how we will prioritise and how we will ensure that we can be efficient and as effective when we get in that large number all at once on 1 April.”