The building safety stream of the Building Future Commission will look at unique approaches to the Building Safety Act as well as longer-term solutions across a wide range of issues all intended to improve safety considerations in the way developments are designed and built


How do we ensure that we never see a repeat of the Grenfell Tower disaster which killed 72 people in 2017? With its myriad legislation, standards and regulations (some of which have yet to be finalised) in many ways the building safety stream of the commission is the most complex of all our eight topics.

But at its essence the question we are looking at it is quite simple: how do we change the culture of building in the UK to drive up safety standards in the design, build and occupation of our high-rise blocks – and, indeed, all of our buildings? 

This is a big question and one the commission will work towards answering over the next 12 months. But, linked to this is also the short-term question of how firms react to the  Building Safety Act, which came on to the statute book last April, although many of its measures require regulation and have yet to be fully implemented.

>> Click here for more on the Building the Future Commission

The 262-page act is intended to “create lasting generational change” to the way in which residential buildings are constructed and maintained. It contains many measures, but one area that is of particular importance to construction professionals is the new responsibilities that will be taken on by designated duty-holders, who will have to demonstrate competency in their field and meet new building safety requirements.

New roles and responsibilities

The act imposes new responsibilities on the duty-holders, who will be the client, the principal designer, the principal contractor, other designers and other contractors. They must have the right “competence” for the work they are engaged to do and clients must be able to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves they are appointing a competent person.

A particular issue that firms are currently facing is that we are just months away from many of the main provisions coming into place… and various duty-holders do not know how they can demonstrate that competency. 

If I want to be the principle designer I don’t really know how to qualify myself for that role

Andrew Mellor, PRP

Andrew Mellor, partner at PRP and a Building the Future commissioner, says: “If I want to be the principal designer for building regulations, I’m stuck at the moment and I don’t really know what’s coming. I don’t know how to qualify myself for that role.”

The government is urging duty-holders to sign up for competency schemes run by third-party providers, but Mellor is doubtful whether this will always allow firms to demonstrate the right experience or expertise to undertake the role.

building safety high rise

Another commissioner, Rebecca Rees, a partner at law firm Trowers & Hamlins, says some of the competency work in the industry, particularly on procurement, has “fallen off a cliff” in recent weeks. However she adds that this is because bodies are taking their time with it. 

She says: “With competencies they have a real challenge because what they want to ensure is that it changes behaviours and increases skills, capability and capacity but isn’t dumbed down or reduced to something where everybody just goes and takes an exam or Saturday morning in front of a computer.”

Regardless, moves to improve and widen skills across all duty-holders will be key to maintaining  safety over the years to come, and the commission will look to share thinking and highlight emerging approaches over the next 12 months and beyond.

One body that will certainly have a remit to promote competency is the new building safety regulator. Based in the Health and Safety Executive, but independent in its decision-making, the new body will also be tasked with implementing and enforcing the new regulatory regime under the act and overseeing the performance of building control bodies.

However, to date this shadow regulator has been fairly quiet, and many of the provisions it will be in charge of enforcing will not come into effect until the latter part of next year. This means the commission has an opportunity to lead the debates around the form of regulation and how the industry is interpreting and responding to it.

More uncertainty 

Another area of uncertainty surrounds digital record-keeping and the requirement under the act for duty-holders to maintain a “golden thread” of information about a building. The idea is that duty-holders or the regulator will be able to see – through the digital records – all relevant information about a building, such as how it is constructed, how it is maintained and how safety has been designed into it.

>> See here: The Building Safety Act: what you need to know

The essential issue is how clients, principal designers and principal contractors and ultimately the “accountable person” for the building post-completion agree on an approach that allows this sharing and updating of  information to take place.

Simon Tolson, senior partner at Fenwick Elliot, believes there will be a lot of questions and potential issues in this area.  He says: “What, if the data company goes bust?  What if their servers get hacked? Is it going to be mirrored somewhere else in another place so that it is safe? How accessible is it really going to be? Who actually pays to maintain it? Is the software going to become obsolete?”

Digital solutions, record-keeping practice and changes of mindset needed to drive this change, will therefore be an area for the commission can probe. Other areas of complexity include how firms react to the various gateway points in the act, which are intended to ensure building safety regulatory requirements are met at different stages of the planning and construction process.

This is particularly so for gateway 2, where design intentions are handed to the regulator and gateway 3, where documents are handed to the building owner. Rees says the question of who takes the risk at gateway 3, or who is liable should something go wrong, is a live debate.

Then there is the issue of insurance. As mentioned, the Building Safety Act’s duty-holder regime places statutory responsibility on key individuals at different stages of a building’s lifecycle, namely on those who procure, plan, manage and undertake building work. 

How do you carry out building safety remediation work in a green way? How feasible is it to put second stairways into buildings without impacting on scheme viability?

Rees has previously told Building that these duty-holder roles will not be embraced or delivered to their fullest extent if they are not “underpinned by reasonably robust and affordable indemnity insurance”, but with so much uncertainty still in place this insurance may not always be easy to come by.

The building safety stream of the commission will also be looking beyond the short term responses to the legislation, and seeking long-term solutions to wider building challenges. For instance, how do you carry out building safety remediation work in a green way? How feasible is it to put second stairways into buildings without impacting on scheme viability?

It should also look at other forms of building safety. In a changing climate, how do we ensure buildings are safe in high winds? Or in floods? How to make sure they do not overheat? With the recent controversy over the death of toddler Awaab Ishak, will there be regulatory pressure to design and maintain mould-resistant and damp-proofed buildings?

And finally,  how realistic is it to begin to shift construction’s model away from its low-margin model based on cost? Rees says the government should legislate against a “race to the bottom” pricing model for higher-risk buildings. The commission could investigate how feasible alternative models are and how they could work.

Building the Future Commission


The Building the Future Commission is a year-long project, launched to mark Building’s 180th anniversary, to assess potential solutions and radical new ways of thinking to improve the built environment.

The major project’s work will be guided by a panel of 19 major figures who have signed up to help guide the commission’s work culminatuing  culminate in a report published at the end of the year.

The final line-up of commissioners includes figures from the world of contracting, housing development, architecture, policy-making, skills, design, place-making, infrastructure, consultancy and legal.

The commissioners include Lord Kerslake, former head of the civil service, Katy Dowding, executive vice president at Skanska, Richard Steer, chair of Gleeds, Lara Oyedele, president of the Chartered Institute of Housing, Mark Wild, former boss of Crossrail and chief executive of SGN and Simon Tolson, senior partner at Fenwick Elliott. See the full list here.

The project is looking at proposals for change in eight areas:

  • Skills and education
  • Energy and net zero
  • Housing and planning
  • Infrastructure
  • Building safety
  • Project delivery and digital
  • Workplace culture and leadership
  • Creating communities

>> Editor’s view: And now for something completely positive - our Building the Future Commission

>> Click here for more about the project and the commissioners

Building the Future will also undertake a countrywide tour of roundtable discussions with experts around the regions as part of a consultation programme in partnership with the regional arms of industry body Constructing Excellence. It will also set up a young person’s advisory panel.

We will also be setting up an ideas hub and we want to hear your views.

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