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Competence tests for architects included in far-reaching Building Safety Bill

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The ARB is to be handed new powers to police the competence of architects under a forthcoming overhaul of the building regulations

The change is one of hundreds being brought forward in the Building Safety Bill, which was published in draft form yesterday (20 July) in the wake of the Hackitt Report and the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Bill sets out the government’s proposed legislation aimed at improving structural and fire safety through greater planning scrutiny, increasing regulation of professional competence and the introduction of new statutory roles during the design and construction of ‘higher-risk’ buildings.

It will also formally create the new Building Safety Regulator at the Health and Safety Executive, which will be responsible for a range of goals, in particular related to ‘higher-risk’ buildings.

Most of the Bill will only change legislation relating to England and Wales. However, some changes – for instance on architects’ competence and a new housing ombudsman – will be UK-wide.

The draft Bill will be consulted on and scrutinised by a parliamentary committee, before being formally introduced in Parliament.

Architects’ competence

The draft Bill contains a section which would amend the Architects Act 1997 to allow the ARB to remove people from the register if they have not ‘undertaken such recent training’ as to satisfy it.

Under the proposed law change, architects would be allowed to apply for an extension in which to finish their training before the ARB is able to remove them from the register.

The government has said it is for the ARB to determine ‘which practical experience or training should be assessed and how the assessment should take place’, in an explanatory note accompanying the draft Bill.

The note added: ‘Most other regulated professions require their registrants to demonstrate competence throughout their career and most professional membership bodies have mandatory CPD requirements […] This proposal brings the architects profession in line with best practice.’

The ARB has already launched a review of the regulation of architects and plans to consult on how to monitor architects’ competence – as well as on changes to the syllabus – later this year.

A spokesperson for the ARB said: ‘Once the research and stakeholder engagement phases of the broader review are complete, we will consider how best to set the standards for entry to the Register and the standards for maintaining registration.’ 

In a separate statement published yesterday the ARB said it is ‘preparing new guidelines setting out the competences expected of architects specifically in relation to fire and life-safety design’, which it will send to registered architects in the near future. 

The government also has plans to improve competency in range of other industry professions, from installers and engineers to site supervisors and procurement professionals.

However, the draft Bill contains no details on how other professions – which do not currently have a regulator – will be affected. Instead the new Building Safety Regulator will be responsible for chairing a committee on the issue.

Andrew Mellor, a senior partner at PRP, said: ‘I did not expect that architects would be singled out to such an extent when other professions play equally important roles in building safety through design and construction roles.’

But he added: ‘I do agree with the proposal that all architects should do CPD and that it should be reviewed regularly to demonstrate competency to certain levels. The process for ensuring that the CPD is appropriate and beneficial is the important part here.’

Richard Waterhouse, chief strategy officer at the National Building Specification, said: ‘This singling out of the [architecture] profession should raise eyebrows for all architects. The profession, its processes and its technical output is very much in the spotlight.’

He added: ‘The new powers given to the ARB around competence and CPD should align requirements with those of the RIBA. The detail is still needed on how these powers will be used, on whether this will lead to further in-career testing and on what the new requirement for CPD will be.’

Principal designers

The draft Building Safety Bill also confirms there will be a two-tier system, with extra scrutiny and new statutory roles being introduced for the design and construction of ‘higher-risk’ buildings.

The type of building included in this category will be subject to occasional revision by the government but will start with buildings over 18m or six storeys and which contain two or more dwellings or student accommodation. This therefore includes tall mixed-use buildings.

Clients developing these buildings will have a legal responsibility to appoint two individuals as ‘principal designer’ and a ‘principal contractor’ – in additional to the normal designer and contractor teams.

These individuals will be responsible for, respectively, the pre-construction and construction phases.

The competency requirements for each role will be set by the new Building Safety Regulator, with clients liable if they fail to appoint someone suitable.

Karen Holmes, then-registrar and chief executive of the ARB, told the AJ in March that the ‘requirements of the role are yet to be finalised, but our understanding is that it will not be reserved exclusively for architects’.

For higher-risk buildings, a ‘fire statement’ will need to be submitted with a planning application, while the Building Safety Regulator will become a statutory consultee providing ‘specialist fire safety input on the proposals’.

Jane Duncan, chair of the RIBA’s fire safety group, said: ‘It’s disappointing that the scope of the new regulatory system has not been widened to apply to other high-risk non-residential buildings at any height – fire does not discriminate.

She added: ‘Over three years on, there is still no commitment to review all relevant technical guidance documents, nor clear outline of responsibilities for duty-holders who work on the design, construction and maintenance of buildings, which is particularly crucial, given the proposed responsibility for competency for the ARB.’

Other changes

Elsewhere in the draft Bill, a range of other changes are planned.

The ARB is affected by two of the new proposals, other than the introduction of a competence-related powers already outlined above.

The first means architects sanctioned by the ARB will have their ruling listed by their name on the register and the ARB’s website. This is, a government note says, ‘to increase transparency for consumers wishing to procure architectural services’.

The other will allow the ARB to charge fees to architects for additional work it carries out, on top of registering them as an architect.

An advice note suggests this extra work could relate to the UK’s departure of the EU: for instance, work the ARB carries out recognising international qualifications or providing evidence for UK architects registering abroad.

Beyond architecture, there is legislation being introduced to allow a ‘golden thread’ of information to be passed through a building’s lifetime.

Developers must start collating information relevant to a building’s safety: from design intent, though to design changes, and the way in which a building was built.

This can then be handed over to the building’s owner, who must keep a digital record of the building and any changes, so safety risks can be managed over a building’s lifetime.

The draft Bill also contains provisions for the creation of a new homes ombudsman, with minimum expected requirements for participating developers.

Owners of new build homes will then be able to escalate complaints if their home was built by a developer who is part of the scheme.

The government will be able to require certain developers, or developers of a specified description, to become and remain a member of the ombudsman.

An independent person at the ombudsmen will rule on complaints and developers will be sanctioned for breaches of the minimum requirements.


Readers' comments (6)

  • While some may be concerned about the singling out of architects, this can also be seen as a very welcome step in heightening the overall professional standing of architects within the built environment ecosystem and indeed in society as a whole .
    Reinforcing real public understanding of the value architects bring, whether in safety, environmental, financial or design terms, must be right at the top of the list of priorities of the President of the RIBA.

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  • Quite apart from what the ARB does or doesn't do, absolutely everyone applying for building regulation approval for anything should be covered by whatever competence requirements are required by government edict.

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  • why does the RIBA still exist? they have failed so completely for decades

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  • Successive governments refused to update the fire safety sections of the Building Regulations. The Regs themselves were too complex.
    Result Grenfell.
    The new systems proposed do not reduce the risks.

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  • @Robert Wakeham
    Whilst I always agree with RW, the final arbiter of whether any design or construction is safe should be the Building Regulations and competent Building Inspectors.
    In the case of Grenfell the LA Building Inspectors did not have a clue.

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  • And in the case of the Grenfell disaster and all its implications so much could've been learnt from the Lakanal House fire, but wasn't.

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