The second draft of the Building Safety Bill sets out major regulatory and legislative reforms in the UK construction sector, with a particular focus on properties that will be identified as high risk residential buildings. In the second of our series of detailed insights, we consider the "golden thread" of information and the new gateway regime.
Golden thread: background
In the past, it has often proved difficult to locate documentation and information that relates to the final design and construction of a building. Information can be held by numerous different parties engaged in a construction project, many of whom will no longer have any involvement with the property once the building has been built and sold. This has made risk management unnecessarily complicated and in many cases, ascertaining who is responsible for building safety has proved challenging. Even in situations where the relevant information is available, it is often incomplete, making it sometimes impossible to ascertain why decisions relating to design and construction were reached, and to identify who was responsible for making those decisions.
In December 2017, Dame Judith Hackitt clearly stated in her interim report following the Grenfell Tower tragedy: "[t]here needs to be a golden thread for all complex and high-risk building projects so that the original design intent is preserved and recorded, and any changes go through a formal review process involving people who are competent and who understand the key features of the design".
Golden thread: stated definition and purpose
There is a golden thread working group within the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (the BRAC), which is an advisory non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, now renamed the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities by Michael Gove. The BRAC has been set up to provide advice on proposals and amendments to the Building Regulations.
The golden thread working group consists of construction stakeholders who are working to develop and implement the new standards. In the BRAC's golden thread report published on 21 July 2021, the golden thread is defined as: "… both the information that allows you to understand a building and the steps needed to keep both the building and people safe, now and in the future". In essence, the golden thread policy is intended to provide a framework that encourages transparency of information relating to all building safety matters, from inception of a project to completion, and its consequential maintenance during occupation thereafter.
The purpose of the golden thread of information is to safeguard residents and others against building associated risks, which include fire and structural safety issues. This will be done by putting measures in place so that information and documents are easily accessible throughout the lifetime of a building. With information and documents in one centrally held digital record, the intention is to ensure that all parties involved (including emergency responders) will know where to find relevant information to ensure that they can limit risks and respond efficiently and appropriately, thereby reducing (and hopefully eliminating) any loss of lives.
Golden thread: implementation
The Bill (primary legislation) will identify and place a legal duty on Accountable Persons and other dutyholders to create, obtain, store and share documents and information about their building, in a prescribed format. Secondary legislation defines principles the dutyholder or Accountable Person must follow in maintaining and storing the golden thread, and ensuring it implements specific standards and technical detail, as required. In addition, there will be golden thread guidance on how to meet the requirements in the legislation. The industry is closely involved in this sweeping and wide-ranging reform and many stakeholders, including residents, are involved with the analysis and scrutiny of the legislation and guidance.
The Building Safety Bill (the Bill) will establish that "golden thread" of information relating to higher risk properties, including high-rise residential buildings (HRRBs) and other vulnerable buildings, such as hospitals and care homes. New dutyholders with obligations relating to the design, construction, completion and occupation of HRRBs will have to create and maintain the golden thread of building safety information.
The draft Building (Higher Risk Buildings) (England) Regulations 2022 is currently being drafted and will focus on how to meet the gateway responsibilities, rather than legacy or existing stock. Technology is key and it affirms the "digital first" requirements. There is also a requirement that historic versions of documents are included.
Dutyholders will need to decide how information will be collated, in what format it will be stored, how it will be updated and maintained during building works, and after completion, ensuring the accuracy of the records. Management of the crucial information delivery process in accordance with the programme must be considered, together with identifying who will check the integrity and extent of the information.
Any failure to provide the golden thread of information may delay or prevent a project's construction, or prevent occupation if the building has already been completed. In our next insight, we review the new gateway regime which requires the Building Safety Regulator (the Regulator) to be satisfied that the building's design meets the functional requirements of the Building Regulations - without this approval, construction cannot begin, nor will a completion certificate be granted.
The golden thread principles
Ten golden thread principles were set out by the BRAC in their July 2021 report, as set out below. (We reproduce the specific headings used in that report.)
Accurate and trusted
Key dutyholders and stakeholders involved with the design, construction and maintenance of a building must have access to structured, verified and accurate information that they can trust to ensure compliance with the Building Regulations. This will then be overseen and approved by the Regulator. The building control process will change to become more highly regulated, operating alongside the new gateway regime.
Residents feeling secure in their homes
Residents will have access to information from the golden thread, intended to provide them with reassurance that their building is being managed safely by the Accountable Persons and the Building Safety Manager.
The golden thread will encourage more collaborative working within the industry and will support culture change. It will increase competence and capability by the sharing of working practices, updated processes and information management control.
Single source of truth
All information recording changes to documents will be kept in one place so that there is a "single source of truth". This will also reduce duplication and help improve accountability and responsibility.
Information must comply with current GDPR legislation and sufficient procedures must be put in place to protect personal information, and so maintain security of the building and its residents.
The new regime will set out clear duties for dutyholders on how to maintain the golden thread of information and meet its required standards, to ensure accountability at all levels.
The information in the golden thread must be presented in a way that can be understood and used by multiple users. Dutyholders should use clear expression and terminology so that the information is easily comprehensible.
Simple to access (accessible)
The information must be stored in a structured way so that it is easy to find, update and extract. The British Standards Institute Government is currently drafting guidance on how people can apply digital standards to meet these principles. BS 8644 (digital management of fire safety information) is currently being developed and will set out the exact documents which will be required and at what stage the documents must be provided. This will ensure that the right information can be found and updated.
Longevity/durability and shareability of information
Information should be able to be shared and accessible to new owners and contractors, and over different software systems.
The objective of the golden thread is building safety so only relevant and useful information must be kept. If the information is no longer relevant, it is not useful and therefore no longer needed.
The Gateway regime
There are three stages to the new gateway regime:
- Gateway one is at the planning application stage.
- Gateway two occurs before construction begins.
- Gateway three, at the completion stage of the works.
The gateway regime is intended to support the creation of the golden thread of information and to ensure building safety risks are considered at each stage during the design, construction, completion and occupation of HRRBs. Secondary legislation has and will be introduced, together with guidance, in addition to the provisions of the Bill itself.
Gateway one came into effect on 1 August 2021 and deals with the planning permission phase and early consideration of fire safety; it takes effect through secondary legislation. Gateway one occurs before dutyholders under the Bill are in place, so it is the applicant for planning permission for developments that include an HRRB that is now required to submit a fire statement for approval by the Regulator. The fire statement needs to contain complete and detailed information specific to that particular development, its fire risks and safety provision.
At gateway two, an application that includes the full design intention has to be provided to, and approved by the Regulator before construction work begins, providing a "hard stop" point until that approval is received. The new dutyholder regime will be implemented, intended to improve accountability for the design, construction and refurbishment of these buildings. At this stage (as covered in our previous insight on the Bill), the dutyholders will reflect those appointed under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations.
The Government is working with the British Standards Institution to define a competent framework for these key roles in the context of HRRBs. As set out in the Government's policy paper Outline Transition Plan for the Building Safety Bill: "[a]pplicants will have to demonstrate how the proposals comply with building regulations requirements - including information about how the new dutyholder, competence, golden thread and mandatory occurrence reporting requirements will be met".
Gateway three is the completion/final certificate phase at which duties will include handover of the relevant documents to both the Regulator and the building owner. If approved, the Regulator will issue a completion certificate and the HRRB will be registered on the regulatory system. A building cannot be occupied until the gateway three process has been completed satisfactorily.
Gateways two and three are likely to come into force approximately 12 to 18 months after the Bill receives Royal Assent.
Golden threads through the gateways: will it work?
A golden thread of information reaching through the lifecycle of a building makes perfect sense, so much so that one might wonder why this was not always in place. The interactions however between the Bill and other legislation (such as the Building Regulations and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) are complex and, taken with the parameters of the effect of the Bill which are primarily limited to the defined HRRBs, may lead to some uncertainty and delay to construction projects, certainly in the early days after implementation. We will keep you updated.
In our next insight, we will focus on the parts of the Bill that relate to the costs of the remediation works.
If you have any queries on this or any construction related issue, contact Sue Ryan.
 Independent review of Building Regulations and fire safety - interim report December 2017
 Building Regulations Advisory Committee: golden thread report
 Building Safety Bill: transition plan