Out-Law Analysis 3 min. read

High-rise building safety reform: the 'golden thread' of information

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The UK government's consultation on its proposed new high-rise building safety regime provides greater detail on the so-called 'golden thread' of information about the building, which will be updated and maintained throughout the whole life cycle of the building.

Accurate and up-to-date information about the design, construction and ongoing maintenance of buildings is crucial to ensuring building safety. The golden thread, which will operate from design stage through to occupation of buildings in scope, is intended to encourage openness, transparency and accountability. This will in turn support culture change in the construction industry.

The consultation is open until 31 July 2019. The government will consider responses over the summer, and publish its response in the autumn. We expect any changes from the published proposals to take the form of fine-tuning, rather than a fundamental rethink.

Accurate and up-to-date information about the design, construction and ongoing maintenance of buildings is crucial to ensuring building safety.

Golden thread obligations will apply to existing buildings in scope, as well as new ones. Organisations should therefore start to prepare now by:

  • gathering information on existing buildings, and those under construction, to ensure that it will be available as the reforms are implemented;
  • considering investment in digital information management systems to capture the golden thread of information about all buildings in scope; and
  • ensuring your organisation has the right level of expertise in the use of building information modelling (BIM).

The golden thread at the construction phase

Before construction begins, certain pieces of information from the golden thread must be submitted to the regulator:

  • full plans, including a detailed specification in relation to how fire and structural safety risks will be managed;
  • 3D digital model of the building 'as planned', which must also show the construction products to be used;
  • fire statement, addressing fire service access and water availability. This will ultimately be developed into a fire and emergency file, building on the fire statement and updated throughout the construction phase;
  • a construction control plan setting out how compliance with the Building Regulations will be achieved and how changes will be controlled and recorded. Major changes affecting safety will need to be agreed with the principal designer and client and approved by the building safety regulator in advance.

This information must be submitted to the new building safety regulator at the first and second of the planned approval 'gateways': planning permission and before construction. It must be reviewed and updated throughout the construction phase.

The golden thread at occupation phase

Under the new regime, a building safety certificate will be required before a building can be occupied. The regulator will not grant a building safety certificate unless the following have been submitted and approved:

  • handover of building safety information on the final, 'as-built' building;
  • safety case for the building identifying hazards, describing how risks are controlled and detailing safety management systems, including emergency response procedures;
  • resident engagement strategy setting out how information will be provided to residents, complaints procedures and wider engagement initiatives.

The safety case must be reviewed and re-submitted to the regulator every five years; and also if the building undergoes major refurbishment.

For existing buildings which fall within the scope of the new regime, the content of the golden thread will have to be retrospectively recreated during the building safety registration process (gateway 3). The government suggests a type 4 fire risk assessment as a starting point.

Digital standards

The government has proposed that the golden thread must be stored in digital format. While it does not intend to enforce the use of any particular software, it is likely to mandate that the information complies with BIM standards.

The government intends for residents to be at the heart of the new building safety system.

A 'key dataset' of information will be maintained in database or spreadsheet format to allow comparison and analysis by the regulator. This dataset must include building ID, location, size, type, age, basic information about the safety features, façade and structure, the outcome of the regulatory gateway reviews and the names of the building's relevant duty holders.

Access to information

The government intends for residents to be at the heart of the new building safety system.

The accountable person responsible for building safety during occupation will be required to pro-actively provide residents with information on the safety of their building - for example, by way of a tenant handbook. Residents will be entitled to request a much broader range of information, such as maintenance records and the specification of fire safety equipment, subject only to an exemption if disclosing the information could compromise the safety and security of the building. Where this information is not forthcoming, a complaint can be pursued with the accountable person and, from there, to the regulator.

The key dataset of information may be made publicly available, and the regulator will maintain public registers of accountable persons and building managers.

Katherine Metcalfe and Laura White are health and safety law experts at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law. Pinsent Masons, in partnership with the British Property Federation, will be hosting a free event to analyse what these proposals mean for the commercial real estate industry on 12 July 2019.

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