Webinar Explained: Competence and the Principal Designer Under the New Building Safety Regime

The recent changes in the legal framework around building regulations have elevated the importance of competence in the building safety regime. This has led to the introduction of a new role, the building regulation Principal Designer. It's crucial to note that this role is distinct from the existing CDM Principal Designer.

The responsibilities of the Principal Designer are pivotal to construction projects, as they are legally bound to ensure their competence in designing and delivering safe buildings for the occupants.

The changes, which came into effect in late 2023, will significantly alter the way architects and designers are appointed. It's important to note that the clients who engage in their services will also have new obligations to fulfil.

In a recent webinar hosted by our friends at Womble Bond Dickinson, Rob Charlton, Space Group CEO, joined Simon Lewis, Partner at WBD, to discuss the impact of these changes on the industry.

During the webinar, Simon delved into the legal landscape of competence, focusing on designers, the principal designer, and clients. He explored the Building Safety Act 2022, which introduces dutyholders and competence, and where to find the dutyholder and competence changes in the secondary legislation. He discussed two aspects of competence, namely, for individuals and organizations. He also shed light on the new dutyholder titles, such as the client, principal designer, and designer, which mirror the CDM Regulations titles but have different roles.

Simon went on to explain the general dutyholder duties, which include planning, managing and monitoring work, cooperating with other dutyholders, and ensuring that everyone is competent. He also discussed specific dutyholder duties, with a particular focus on those for clients, designers, and principal designers. Simon highlighted the competency requirements that are tied to these duties, where everyone carrying out design or building work must be competent. He also pointed out key standards and guidance available on dutyholders and competence, such as the BSI Flex, PASs, and industry reports.

In the next segment of the webinar titled "Feeling the Impact: What it Means for Architects, Designers, and Clients," Rob discussed various topics related to the new regime changes. He recommended some essential books and legislation for the attendees to read and then moved on to bust some myths by addressing common areas of confusion and clarifying them. This included correcting the misconception that the dutyholder and competence regime only applies to higher-risk buildings. Rob also talked about how changes in the industry over time had pushed design risk and responsibility down the chain, but now the new regime changes are rectifying this. He discussed the role of the Principal Designer from an architect's perspective and whether the new regime changes are really changes or whether they are things that the industry should have been doing all along. Lastly, he discussed from a practical perspective how his organization intends to demonstrate competence and key points to consider around fire protection, cladding, steelwork connections and changed and approved alternatives.

During the question and answer portion of the webinar, Rob and Simon received a multitude of questions both before and during the event. They tried to answer as many questions as possible, covering topics such as performing both a CDM and Building Regulation dutyholder role, retrospective claims under the Building Safety Act, architect obligations, particularly for small practices and low-risk buildings, the relevance of height restrictions or classifications, future RIBA publications, and the risks associated with accountable persons and principal accountable persons.

After the event, Simon said,"The questions we received highlighted not only the issues that are of concern to many in relation to dutyholders and competence but also that there is still a need for understanding the wider aspects of the Building Safety Act and their effects on the construction sector across the board. It was great working with Rob again on this important area."

Rob added,"The Building Safety Act represents a seismic shift in construction regulation following the sobering lessons of the Grenfell tragedy. The new dutyholder regime introduces much-needed accountability measures to prevent future disasters. The strong turnout at the webinar underscores industry-wide commitment to safer practices."

To find out more, including points the speakers made that are not covered in the summary above, you can watch the full recording of the webinar by contacting events@wbd-uk.com.