How a ‘golden thread’ of data will help keep residents safe

Sam Hay (left) and Mary-Anne Bowring (right) spoke to RICS members about the future of building safety in Manchester on Wednesday

At an RICS event in Manchester yesterday Ringley CEO Mary-Anne Bowring and LifebyRingley MD Sam Hay spoke about the impact on block management of Dame Judith Hackitt’s building safety review. For now, this only applies to high-risk residential buildings (HRRBs) – which are defined as those with 10 or more storeys.

One big idea is the proposal to create a ‘golden thread’ of key information about every new HRRB in the country. This data is to be digitally recorded, maintained and made readily available to all stakeholders, including residents.

The kind of information that will be recorded is

  • Size and height of the building
  • Structure
  • Building fabric
  • Escape and fire compartmentation information
  • Systems in operation
  • Permanent fixtures and fittings

This will not only apply to new buildings, so you can imagine the difficulty in retrospectively piecing this together for existing stock. There are estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 such buildings in the UK.

Block managers are only too well aware that a lack of complete, accurate and properly maintained building information is common and throws up a number of challenges. The building owner doesn’t have to keep the information that is required to be able to easily and effectively manage building safety throughout the building life cycle so it is often virtually impossible to work out whether any changes have been made between the original design and completion. This may have an impact on the building safety strategy as modifications and refurbishments are made over the years.

The worry here is that what gets lost is the fire scheme, as originally conceived. Also when carrying out a major works project or fully refurbishing a building, it is difficult for both block managers and their contractors to work out what impact any changes might have on safety in that building.

This information gap has become all too clear during the inquiry into the Grenfell fire, where a recent refurbishment contributed to the tragic loss of life. In future, with everyone involved in the operation and maintenance of the building as well as the fire service having access to this ‘golden thread’, building design will be made completely transparent. Any changes that could impact safety can then be managed through a formal review process – another of Dame Judith’s recommendations which Mary-Anne and Sam also discussed with their audience.

 Of course, as we point out above, these proposed changes only apply to HRRBs, ie those blocks that are above 18m high. But anything designed to keep flat owners and renters safer in their beds is to be applauded. At least it’s a start.