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RIBA Principal Designer’s Guide

May 2024
Andrew Croft, Felicity Hird and Rhia Gould

In March 2024 RIBA published a Guide on the role of the Principal Designer, which is especially helpful given the lack of substantive guidance from the government or the Building Safety Regulator.

For further information about the Building Safety Act, please see links to our previous articles here and here, and explore our ‘Building a Safer Future Hub’. As much of the secondary legislation is new and untested we will be looking to industry guidance notes, such as the RIBA Principal Designer’s Guide, for the interpretation and practicalities around the secondary legislation.

The key points which the guidance touches upon are as follows:

  • the absolute obligations contained within the Building Regulations for the Principal Designer which are not qualified by any requirement of reasonableness;
  • the strict obligations for the Principal Designer to take “all reasonable steps” in performing several of its duties under the Building Regulations;
  • the duties of the Principal Designer to ensure that the client understands its duties and responsibilities under the Building Regulations;
  • the risk of accepting a contract which contains the absolute/strict obligations taken from the Building Regulations that would not benefit from comprehensive professional indemnity insurance cover;
  • the competency requirements under the Building Regulations and how these can be achieved (i.e., behavioural competence, technical competence, legislative and regulatory competence, etc.);
  • what the Building Regulations say around who will perform the role of the Principal Designer in the case of any uncertainty;
  • practical tips to help a Principal Designer fulfil their duties efficiently and effectively, including in relation to appointing sub-consultants; and
  • the additional duties for Higher-Risk Buildings and what these mean for a Principal Designer.

The RIBA Guide gives some essential clarity on the subject and an indication as to which obligations should be present within a Principal Designer appointment, versus those to push back on. This will be especially important for designers/lead consultants when negotiating their terms of appointment with a client.

In particular, the guidance outlines that it will be important for designers/lead consultants to factor in the following during any negotiation:

  • the client has duties under the Building Regulations too, which would ideally be drafted into any appointment;
  • the Principal Designer should not agree to any duties that go further than those set out in the Building Regulations;
  • ideally the Principal Designer appointment would be separate from any other appointment as this will make the need for any novation of the non-Principal Designer services easier, enable the Principal Designer appointment to be brought to an end at an early stage if needed, and ring-fence any liability in relation to the role;
  • if the designer is appointing any sub-consultants, these appointments should be back-to-back with the client’s main appointment; and
  • agreeing to any absolute/strict obligations may affect insurance coverage for a certain project – it is worth flagging this to any client.

If you require any assistance on drafting or negotiating a Principal Designer appointment, please feel free to contact Beale & Co’s Contracts and Projects Advisory Team or the authors.

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