The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 with the loss of 72 lives generated considerable public concern about safety in all buildings in occupation. The fire spawned a number of high profile inquiries undertaken by Government as well as by the construction sector with the conclusion that our structures and systems for the management of building safety were not fit for purpose.
In July 2021, the Government published the Building Safety Bill which includes a range of proposed measures with the aim of creating a more effective regulatory and accountability framework for greater oversight of the building sector. The measures will apply to all buildings, including what are defined as higher risk structures being those over 18 metres in height or having at least seven storeys.
There are to be new clearer standards and guidance for the undertaking of construction, greater powers for residents in regard to the management of risk in the buildings they occupy, and new remedies in regard to inadequate construction. The ambition is to drive what is seen as an essential safety culture change in the sector and a more responsible approach by the construction industry, from the design stage though to the construction, on-going management and refurbishment of buildings.
Along with the proposal to introduce a Building Safety Regulator as part of the Health and Safety Executive, new Gateways which higher risk buildings will need to satisfy when being brought forward, the appointment of a structure of duty holders who will be accountable for the development and later occupational use of a building, and a new post Brexit regime for the safety of construction products, there also proposals specific to Architects.
The Architects Registration Board will have new powers in regard to the monitoring of registered Architects, including to assess competence and to increase transparency. The Architects Act 1997 will be amended to bring these new provisions into effect, with the revisions timetabled to come into force within 12 months of the Bill being enacted.
Under the changes, unlike at present Architects will be required to undergo continuing professional development throughout their career.The ARB will have powers to set the expected criteria for competence, to determine which practical experience or training should be assessed and how that assessment should take place. The ARB will be expected to consult on all of this with other relevant professional bodies and stake holders, before the new competency regime is introduced. If then though an Architect does not meet the new requirements, or is found to be guilty of professional misconduct, or serious professional incompetence with regard to the new criteria, the ARB will have the power to remove them from the Register.
The new provisions will apply to all registered Architects, not only those working on higher risk buildings, which is seen as essential given the need to provide wider public confidence in regard to building design and construction. A good number of other professional bodies, including those related to the construction sector, already require members to undergo CPD training throughout the career of a professional member and these new moves are seen as a way to bring Architects in line.
At present if an Architect is sanctioned, the ruling is listed on the ARB website. The Bill intends to amend the Architects Act to allow disciplinary orders to be published with the aim of increasing transparency for consumers looking to procure Architect services.
The Building Safety Bill is working its way through the Parliamentary system but Architects need to be braced for the new changes applying to them and which are timetabled to take effect very soon after the Bill has been enacted into law.