The Golden Thread
The Most Dramatic Transformation of Building Regulations in Decades
30th March 2023
The Building Safety Act is the most dramatic transformation of Building Regulations in decades, and the Golden Thread is at the very heart of it.
By now, most people in the construction industry will have all heard the term ‘the Golden Thread’ being used, but what does it REALLY mean, how will it change how we work on a daily basis moving forward, and how are we at Wilkinson Construction Consultants embracing the change?
The need for change
The ﬁre outbreak at the Grenfell Tower in 2017 is one of the UK’s worst disasters to occur in modern times. One of the main reasons for the freak spread of the ﬁre was the external cladding made of highly ﬂammable materials, along with other ﬁre safety features not being up to scratch.
Following the Grenfell Tower Disaster, a full report was produced by Dame Judith Hackitt DBE, FREng, FIChemE, entitled ‘Building a Safer Future’, which was an independent review of the current building regulations and ﬁre safety. The report found that the current system of building regulations and ﬁre safety is not ‘ﬁt for purpose’, and a new system needed to be adopted to deliver safe buildings.
Dame Hacketts report identiﬁed several issues in construction projects, such as lack of information, lack of understanding, gaps in the speciﬁcation process, and lack of responsibility, to name a few.
It was concluded that future disasters could be avoided with collaborative, digitised information systems.
What is the Golden Thread?
The construction industry needs to be faster to adopt technology, and there are considerable gaps in the collaboration between different parties regarding construction projects.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s Interim Report “identiﬁed the need for a ‘golden thread’ of information for all higher-risk residential buildings (HRRBs), so that their original design intent is preserved and changes can be managed through a formal review process.” This information is also crucial for the building’s future maintenance.
In April 2022, the UK government passed the Building Safety Act with the aim of making buildings safer. The Golden Thread forms part of the Building Safety Act.
How will it work?
- The vision for the Golden Thread is that key safety features (not just fire safety ones) will be considered at the outset of a project. In most cases, this will be the planning stage, also known as Gateway 1. Planning permission will not be granted without relevant Fire Safety documents being submitted for approval – these will need to be sufficiently detailed to set out the actual design.
- The next stage will be Building Control Approval Stage (or Gateway 2), and works will not be allowed to commence on site until full construction drawings and specifications have been submitted to and approved by the Building Control Body.
- The final stage is occupation (and yes, you guessed it, this is Gateway 3). Before a building can be occupied it must be proven that the works have been built and commissioned in accordance with the plans that have been approved. If there have been any changes, errors or omissions during the construction stage, these must have been recorded and resubmitted for approval.
This 3 stage process of design, detail and evidence is the heart of the Golden Thread.
What will the Golden Thread look like?
There are already several software systems out there promising to be the solution to the Golden Thread. However, there is currently no national software methodology for the Golden Thread (unlike say SAP).
The Government is expected to publish guidance and standards for the digital requirements of The Golden Thread, including what information needs to be stored. Although we are still waiting to see what this might be, it is thought that it will at least include drawings, operations & maintenance ﬁles, health and safety ﬁles, risk assessments, materials documentation, and much more.
We do know that the HSE has stated that the building’s information must be:
- kept digitally
- kept securely
- a building’s single source of truth
- available to people who need the information to do a job
- available when the person needs the information
- presented in a way that person can use
Will it affect me?
Technically gateways 1-3 and, therefore The Golden Thread only apply to buildings over 18 metres or 7 storeys high, although this may be expanded in the future.
Given Dame Hackett’s intention that the Building Safety Act will create a culture change in the industry, we anticipate the rules cascading down to other projects and that the principles should apply to every project.
Indeed, we have already seen planning authorities requiring Fire Statements to support applications for projects as “simple” as domestic extensions. Additionally, the Government have consulted on making “Full Plans” applications mandatory on all projects covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order – pretty much everything apart from domestic extensions.
What are Wilkinson’s doing?
There is much anticipation for us as Building Inspectors, as you can imagine, but how will it affect how we support you in the future?
Undoubtedly, the Golden Thread will dramatically change how we work within the construction industry, but for the better. At Wilkinson’s, we are excited about the change that will reinvent how we manage and build safely.
- Firstly, we will no longer be offering Building Control Services on In-Scope buildings (e.g. those over 18m in height and containing one or more dwellings). From October, you will no longer have a choice in any case and will have to use the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) to process your application.
- Next, we are pleased to offer pre-planning fire safety assessment services now. This is a new service whereby we will review and assess your project against ADB and provide a letter of support and an accompanying report to submit with your planning application. This is currently available on domestic extension projects where a Fire Safety Statement is required by the Planning Authority. (Please note that this is NOT a design service – we can only indicate if the proposal would or would not be likely to achieve Building Control Approval. If you require design services, you will still need to engage a Fire Engineer.)
- Thirdly considering the consultation on “Full Plans” applications, we will not be accepting Building Notices. It is important that a project is fully designed before it commences on site, and we believe that this should apply to domestic projects as well. If you have only had Planning Stage drawings undertaken, then we are likely to decline the project, as without detailed construction phase drawings, calculations and specifications, the works will not comply. The Building Safety Act requires that all design work is undertaken by a competent designer, and in most cases, contractors will not have the Skills, Knowledge, Qualifications and Experience to design. Therefore, you should always engage a competent Architect to produce construction phase drawings, reports, and supporting documents.
- Another innovation we hope to launch involves upgrades to our systems to help record information and make this available to you. We already provide a tracking report on every project with Red, Amber, and Green traffic lights to make it clear what information has been approved, what is still waiting for more detail and what does not comply (or is overdue). We hope that we can expand this further to enable you to view this at any time (not just when we send updates), and to enable you to submit documents directly to the system. This will enable a live dataset of what has been submitted and what is waiting for review, along with expected response dates.
- Lastly, we are aware that sometimes clients need things to be checked before making a formal submission for approval, for example, during feasibility or when first pricing a job. These enquiries are traditionally low priority for a Building Control Approver as there are no formal statutory processing deadlines, and clients find it very hard to get these questions answered. Therefore, we are introducing a new subscription-based system for a limited number of clients to enable them priority access responses (typically 48 hours) to technical questions. If you are interested in this service, please get in touch to find out more.
In future, all projects will be affected by the Building Safety Bill and the expectation of a change of culture, away from the “back of a fag packet” to fully detailed designs prior to work starting on site, change control during construction, and evidencing how works comply prior to occupation. This should make the entire system smoother, more cost-effective and more professional and root out the “cowboy” element.
Projects will need an accountable person and a principal designer / principal contractor who will all have significant duties, with financial and even custodial penalties for failures. At any point in time, The Golden Thread will allow the duty holders and the building safety regulator/building control approver to have a complete overview and understanding of the current status of the build, where it is going and what changes have been made along the way. Having this insight and knowledge ensures that safety remains at the forefront of the project.
Overall the principles behind The Golden Thread are very promising and will bring an array of beneﬁts to the industry, including:
- Cultural shift
We will be giving regular updates on this as the Draft Regulations finally become law later this year. Subscribe to our newsletter now to stay up to date.
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