We urgently need Principal Designers. Are architects ready to step up?

Andrew Mellor_PRP_crop

We still await the issue of more information from the government on the dutyholders in relation to Building Regulations as set out in the Building Safety Act. The draft Dutyholder Regulations were withdrawn in July 2022 and it is assumed that revised regulations will be published at some point soon.

It is not thought that the proposed dutyholder titles relating to the Building Regulations will change. It is anticipated that they will still be same as those under the CDM Regulations 2015, namely the Client, Principal Designer (PD), Principal Contractor, Designers and Contractors.

It is not clear why the draft regulations were withdrawn and what if any the changes may be. But if there are changes then it would seem likely that they will relate to the duties of the dutyholders rather than the requirement for the roles to exist.

What has become much clearer are the expected competency requirements of the Principal Designer for Building Regulations with the RIBA having recently published its draft criteria for the role. These criteria are based on PAS 8671 (Built Environment – Framework for competence of individual Principal Designers – Specification), which is a strategic document intended to be used to develop Principal Designer competency training and evaluation programmes.

Those on the register will have had to demonstrate competency in both Principal Designer CDM and Building Regulations roles

The RIBA proposes to launch a Principal Designer register this summer. Those on the register will have had to demonstrate competency in both Principal Designer CDM and Building Regulations roles.

Although the government’s consultation on the role stated that it was considering that the roles would be individual and could be undertaken by either separate organisations/individuals, or one organisation or individual, the RIBA appears to have taken the latter approach.

Those who wish to therefore be on the RIBA’s Principal Designer register – and who do not already have expertise and experience in Principal Designer CDM services – will have to train and demonstrate competency in both Principal Designer roles.

The Principal Designer (Building Regulations) role applies to all projects where a Building Regulations application is required. It is not just for Higher Risk Buildings. It is anticipated that architects will undertake the role, hence the RIBA developing its competence criteria and proposing a register.

There is therefore likely to be a shortage of Principal Designers

However, will architects have the appetite for such a role? It comes with some risk, and if following the RIBA route, requires them to also become a Principal Designer for CDM as well. It of course remains to be seen if insurers will provide professional indemnity cover for the new role.

The RIBA has also proposed two levels of Principal Designer (Building Regulations) – one for all buildings including Higher Risk Buildings (HRBs) under the Building Safety Act, and one which does not include the HRBs. Undoubtedly, there will in time be other organisations offering Principal Designer training and registration schemes. The decision then for Principal Designers will be which scheme is the most credible and therefore most beneficial to align to.

Demonstrating an individual’s competence is one thing but the organisation will have to develop processes and procedures for the new Principal Designer role too. These will include standard project documents such as a Building Regulations responsibilities matrix, project management process, quality assurance procedures, internal competency reviews and senior level governance due to the legal obligations of the role.

As this role is expected to be introduced alongside Gateway 2 (Building Control Approval Application) in October this year, there is not much time for those wanting to undertake the role to prepare. There is therefore likely to be a shortage of Principal Designers, which could impact on project delivery. That is, unless the Government anticipate this and decide to phase in the requirement, thereby providing the industry with more time to prepare.

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