Official says designs with ‘holes’ can receive approval in some circumstances

A leading figure at the Building Safety Regulator has confirmed high-rise residential blocks will not always need to have a complete design in order to receive building control approval.

Under new rules coming fully into force in April, designs will have to receive building control approval at gateway two – a “hard stop” which replaces the deposit of plans stage in the current regime.

The BSR has said previously that the application must contain “sufficient information to show that the building will satisfy all applicable building regulations”.

A clearly signposted open door at the bottom of a flight of stairs with a fire extinguisher next to it

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The new regulations cover buildings 18m in height

This has been widely interpreted to mean a full design must be submitted at the pre-construction gateway two stage in order to receive building control approval allowing work to start.

But Neil Hope-Collins, the operational policy lead for higher-risk building control authority at the Building Safety Regulator, told a webinar: “There will legitimately be parts of the design where it is not reasonable to expect the full detail of the outset.”

He said the regulator will still require more information about the design of the building than under the previous building control regime and added: “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.”

The comments have been interpreted as a shift by the regulator. Adam Hopkins, senior technical manager at housing association 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.

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“Over the past months and years, I’ve participated in and observed conversations between professionals where the debate is about how all this work will get completed before gateway two.

“If the messaging hasn’t changed, then how has 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”.

And Jon Pagan, head of technical at fire safety consultant Kiwa, said the reaction to the BSR comments “emphasises one of the main problems that we have with the new gateway process - the lack of clarity on fundamental aspects of it”.

But others in the industry welcomed the clarity on the flexibility provided. Andrew Mellor, partner at architect PRP, told Building the “new approach” set out by Hope-Collins is “the only sensible approach and will be very welcomed by the industry”.

A spokesperson for the BSR said the regulator’s messaging has been consistent throughout and said the legislation allows building control applications to be ‘approved with requirements’, which can include a direction to provide specified plans or documents by a specified date.

She said: “The consistent message from BSR has been that there should be sufficient detail for the regulator to be assured that if built the design will satisfy all applicable requirements of building regulations.

“This recognises that there could be details and areas of design that it was not reasonable for a client to provide at the initial point of application.”

The new regime applies to “higher-risk buildings” – defined as being at least 18m in height or have at least seven storeys and two residential units.