Demystifying the Golden Thread and Building Safety Bill
Author: Phoebe Winter
Published: 22nd June 2021
Since the introduction of the concept in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of the Building Regulations in 2018, the ‘Golden Thread’ has been a topic enthusiastically debated and defined by industry. In May 2021, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), supported by the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC) published the approved definition and principles, marking a significant step towards the establishment of the Golden Thread within industry.
The Building Safety Bill will undergo parliamentary scrutiny this summer, having been announced in the Queen’s Speech of December 2019. As we near its publication and passage through parliament, let’s take a closer look at the Golden Thread, its relationship to the Bill and what it will mean to put it into practice.
The Golden Thread:
The Golden Thread (GT) of building information is a concept that was proposed by Dame Judith Hackitt in chapter eight of the final report, ‘Building a Safer Future’, which was commissioned following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in 2017. She stated:
“there needs to be a Golden Thread for all complex and high-risk buildings so that the original design intent is preserved and recorded, and…any changes go through a formal review process involving people who are competent and who understand the key features of the design”.
In November 2020, the BRAC Golden Thread Working Group was formed to support MHCLG and HSE in developing policy for the GT and ensuring industry have the knowledge, tools and understanding to implement it.
The definition published by MHCLG, with the support of BRAC, states the GT to be “information that allows you to understand a building and the steps needed to keep both the building and people safe, now and in the future”. This marks a significant step in the process to standardise the knowledge and understanding of the GT across industry.
Essentially, the GT is a digital library evidencing all necessary safety information relevant to a building over the course of its life, from project inception to demolition. It means information is kept up to date, and an accountability trail is formed as the information about each contractor and their work is permanently recorded. It may act as a timeline of the life experiences of a building.
As stated in the ‘Explanatory Notes to the Draft Building Safety Bill’, the GT will make sure “that the right people have the right information at the right time to ensure buildings are safe and building safety risks are managed throughout the building’s lifespan”. Using digital storage means the “original design intent and any subsequent changes to the building are captured, preserved and used to support safety improvements”. A digitally stored GT is a solution to the issue of building safety information often being overlooked or lost, particularly during a transaction.
“the GT is a digital library evidencing all necessary safety information relevant to a building over the course of its life”
The most important concepts of the GT are:
It will be held digitally, to ensure all information is relevant, accurate and accessible.
For new builds, dutyholders (who may be architects, designers, contractors etc) must begin the information collection process during the design and construction phase.
It is the responsibility of the dutyholders to create and maintain a GT relating to fire and structural safety.
The GT must be passed to a specified Accountable Person just before building occupation (more information on Accountable Persons can be seen in the Building Safety Bill section, click HERE to skip to this). It will be a requirement to evidence and confirm this has happened. From this point, the Accountable Person is responsible for keeping it up to date.
There will be standards that must be upheld. These “will include requirements around robust information management and keeping information up to date. The golden thread will ensure that those responsible for the building have the required information to manage building safety throughout the lifecycle of the building” (Explanatory Notes to the Draft Building Safety Bill).
If you would like to read the full GT definition and principles, as agreed by the MHCLG, HSE and BRAC, please click HERE.
The Building Safety Bill:
The Building Safety Bill (BSB) aims to establish a new, more stringent regulatory regime for building safety and construction products, as well as guaranteeing a stronger voice in the system for residents to ensure that their safety and comfort is paramount. The draft BSB was published in July 2020, and is not expected to achieve royal assent until 2023, with the final Bill due for publication this summer.
The draft BSB faced scrutiny from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee. They concluded that the current draft is too vague and reliant on unpublished secondary legislation. Reliance on secondary legislation could cause issues surrounding clarity on when the new rules would come into effect, as becoming an Act of Parliament may have little impact if the supporting legislation is not in place to bring the rules into action. They believe that a timetable of when the bill would be actioned would be beneficial, as well as the publication of the secondary legislation if they are unable to make the draft more detailed.
It can often be hard for industries to adjust whilst waiting for, and then implementing, new legislation. As the construction industry waits for formal guidance as to how to prepare for the BSB, there is uncertainty surrounding the measures they should be taking to prepare for the transition to the new regime. They also need to try and ensure that their current projects align with the draft BSB, to prevent any issues arising when the legislation does come into force. This needs to be considered during the early stages of planning a new build.
The main elements that were expected in the draft include:
An improved safety system for high-rise residential buildings (as suggested in ‘Building a Safer Future’).
A voice in the system for residents. It will be made clear to them how they can contribute to maintaining the safety of their buildings.
Clarity over accountability and stronger responsibilities for those responsible for the safety of high-rise buildings. Competence requirements must be met to ensure high standards.
Deter non-compliance through stronger enforcement and sanctions against those who do not fulfil their duties.
A new, stronger, and clearer framework to give national oversight of construction projects.
A new system that will oversee the entire built environment. This would include local enforcement agencies and national regulators.
Making it obligatory for any developers of new build homes to belong to a New Homes Ombudsman.
Some more features that are included in the draft, re-worded from ‘Explained: The Draft Building Safety Bill’ (UK Government) are:
An Accountable Person for all buildings over 18m or more than seven storeys who will be responsible for the safety of residents and will have to listen and respond to the concerns of residents.
A Building Safety Regulator to oversee the BSB enforcement and ensure Accountable Persons are fulfilling their duties.
Access to important building safety information for residents and leaseholders, as well as new complaints handling requirements.
Better safety in high rise buildings. Residents will have new powers to raise and enforce better safety standard and performance.
Ensuring leaseholders do not pay extortionate, unaffordable costs for historic repairs. This is being considered, and government continues to work with the finance and insurance industries to protect leaseholders.
Insurance issues addressed. A ‘building safety charge’ will be created to let leaseholders see and know what they are being charged for when keeping their building safe. These costs will be limited.
As well as developers of new builds having to belong to a New Homes Ombudsman, new build homebuyers can also complain to a New Homes Ombudsman, protected in legislation. The Ombudsman will hold developers to account, including the ability to require compensation from developers.
Clarity over who is responsible for risk management during the design, construction and occupation phases and how a golden thread can be formed.
When a building that falls under the new rules becomes occupied, it needs to be registered with the Building Safety Regulator and apply for a Building Assurance Certificate. The Accountable Person is required to complete and maintain a safety case risk assessment and appoint a Building Safety Manager for daily oversight.
Inspectors who sign off buildings as safe for occupation need to follow the new rules and must register with the regulator.
The government will have new powers to regulate construction materials and products and ensure their safety for use.
To read the full draft Building Safety Bill please click HERE.
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