Mark Turner AEW

COMMENT | Legislation set to digitise high-rise housing

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New legislation expected in the months ahead will force owners of high-rise residential buildings to hold robust digital information about their assets. For many building owners, this presents significant challenges. A change is coming, writes Mark Turner, BIM manager at AEW Architects.

We need a culture change in how we design, build and operate HRRBs.

In May 2018, following the Grenfell disaster, the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report led by Dame Judith Hackitt was published. The Government commissioned the report as an independent investigation of the issues surrounding current Building and Fire Safety Regulations. As expected, the report’s findings were damning.

Dame Judith found several areas of concern:

  • the roles and responsibilities of those procuring, designing, constructing and maintaining buildings are unclear;
  • building regulations are ambiguous;
  • competence in the industry is patchy;
  • product testing, labelling and marketing are insufficient; and
  • residents’ voices are not heard.

One example of her findings was that doors that had been marketed as fire resistant for a 30-minute period failed subsequent re-testing.

Public consultation

Among the report’s key recommendations were the introduction of a new regulatory framework and the creation of a new Joint Competent Authority (JCA). The proposed JCA will be formed from existing bodies including Local Authority Building Control, the Health & Safety Executive and the Fire & Rescue Service. The framework will focus on the design and construction of all multi-occupancy HRRBs.

A digital record of each building will be used in regular “safety case reviews”, ensuring that these buildings are safe for their residents, the report said. Proposals in the Building a Safer Future consultation were incorporated into the Hackitt report. A strong theme running through these proposals was that structured digital information must be the “golden thread” underpinning the life cycle of an HRRB.

Access to information

Collating digital information on new-build HRRBs should be achievable for all owners with little effort. The supply chain in the construction industry has had several years transitioning to working better in the age of information – that is, providing this sort of data.

The challenge for many building owners will be two-fold:

  • assessing what information is available for existing HRRB stock, and
  • adapting business systems and processes to hold and maintain digital asset information.

Structured digital information has become commonplace in other sectors. Market pressures and the financial crash compelled retail and industrial property owners to innovate their business processes. Sadly, it took a tragedy for large-scale action to occur in the residential sector.

Strengthening governance

However, the move towards compiling and providing trusted, structured information presents opportunities for building owners. Under the plans, the JCA will use the structured information as a basis for safety case reviews, but the main beneficiaries of this process are those concerned with governance, and of course, the occupants of the building.

From a governance perspective, business processes based on secure access to a data-set will drive compliance. Building systems that need regular maintenance can be programmed into automated events. Responsibilities, statuses and reporting can be built into a transparent asset management system. Asset management is often exceptionally fragmented, with compliance typically achieved despite knowledge generally being disparate across an organisation. A truly digital system can change this, offering dashboard-style management of not only an asset, but a whole estate.

Finally, we must appreciate the resident. Anyone living in a HRRB should be able to instantly access information about the safety of their home. For example, when the sprinkler was last tested, what the emergency escape strategy is, what the building is made from, and so on. Most importantly, the resident should have a voice.

The new legislation is eagerly awaited by many. Are you ready?

Get in touch to discover how we can help you and your estate meet the needs of the digital age, by emailing mturner@aewarchitects.com or calling 0161 214 4370.

Mark Turner is BIM manager at AEW Architects

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