Breaking down the blueprint – the principal designer role

What is the role of the principal designer?

Following the introduction of the Building Safety Act and its secondary legislation, the principal designer role now has a series of additional responsibilities and competency requirements, above and beyond what’s set out in the 2010 Building Regulations.

If you’re appointed in this role for a project, it’s a legal requirement that you perform the principal designer duties expected.

Here, we’ll walk you through the responsibilities of the principal designer, as well as their competency requirements.

What is a principal designer?

The Health & Safety Executive – which is the Building Safety Regulator under the Building Safety Act – states that the principal designer is the designer in control of the design work for a project.

A principal designer might be an architect, engineer or surveyor, and can either be an individual or organisation, though the former is more likely for smaller projects.

It should perhaps go without saying, but it’s important that the principal designer is part of the design team, and not a third-party without influence over design decisions.

“Principal designers should appraise and challenge design work in a way that helps designers to reach consensus on design work.”

PAS 8671: 2022

When is a principal designer required?

A principal designer will need to be appointed by a client when multiple entities are involved on a project. It’s the client’s responsibility to ensure that the principal designer they select has the right competencies to fulfil this role. This covers the principal designer’s skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours, as outlined in 11G of the Building Safety Act’s secondary legislation. But, in order to secure new business, it’s naturally in the principal designer’s best interest to be able to evidence that they can meet these requirements, too.

What is the role of the principal designer?

In order to fully understand the role of the principal designer, it’s useful to cross-refer the Building Safety Act’s demands with PAS 8671: 2022. This PAS standard provides a framework for competence thresholds that individuals should meet when tasked with the duty holder role of principal designer.

With the aim of driving greater accountability and responsibility for safety issues throughout a building’s lifecycle, principal designers should view these requirements as not purely an obligation, but a chance to make meaningful, industry-wide change. From accelerating positive culture change to motivating greater compliance across the sector, the role of the principal designer is a pivotal one.

The critical eye of principal designers

With a sufficient breadth of knowledge, principal designers need to be able to critically assess design requirements so they can…

Make informed decisions

Ask intelligent questions

Understand when to bring in expert help

Coordinate overall action

What are the principal designer’s responsibilities?

The duties of a principal designer are detailed in 11M of the Building Safety Act’s secondary legislation. They are as follows:

Plan, manage and monitor design work

Cooperate, coordinate and communicate with all duty holders to ensure the design work, if built, complies with building regulations

Liaise with the principal contractor and share any information relevant to the planning, management and monitoring of the building work, and the coordination of the building and design work so that it complies with all relevant requirements

Review and regard all comments from the principal contractor

If requested, assist the client in providing information to other designers and contractors

No more than 28 days after the end of their appointment, provide a document explaining the arrangement put in place to fulfil their duties

If a replacement principal designer is appointed, they must review the previous arrangements to ensure building work complies with regulations

What about principal designer competence?

As previously mentioned, competence for duty holder roles can be viewed across four key pillars:









Competence can be demonstrated in a variety of ways, such as formal training, previous work (such as a similar project where you’ve needed to identify and manage building safety risks for higher-risk buildings), or understanding the law and operational practices that should be undertaken to mitigate or reduce risks to an acceptable level.

As a result, trade associations, professional bodies and training providers have an important role to play in helping you evidence your competencies to decision-makers.

But when considering the principal designer role, it’s PAS 8671: 2022 that details the specific areas that you need to showcase your credentials in. These include:

    • Behavioural competence
    • Legislative and regulatory framework for compliance
    • Management of design work compliance
    • Technical framework for compliance
Each of these areas details specific requirements that principal designers need to meet for all building work, as well as a series of additional competencies expected when they’re involved with higher-risk buildings.
These are too extensive to cover succinctly in this blog, but if you download PAS 8671: 2022 then you’ll be able to see each of the competencies clearly listed in this document.

What if a principal designer fails to comply with their duties?

Should a principal designer fail to comply with their duties, there could be a range of repercussions. From costly delays to a project when applying for building control approval, to failing to secure a building control completion certificate, the fallout for the project itself can be significant.

But for individual duty holders, the outcome can be even more severe – from considerable fines and damaged brand reputation, to potentially even imprisonment. As such, the duties of the principal designer must be taken seriously.

“It’s essential to provide reassurance and evidence that a building has been built safe and continues to be safe.”

Dame Judith Hackitt, Building a Safer Future report

No matter the duty holder role – whether you’re a client, principal designer, principal contractor, or general designer or contractor – the Building Safety Act is taking vital steps towards establishing strong foundations for a safer future.

It’s an issue we’re passionate about at Constructionline. Transforming how the industry

approaches designing, building and maintaining tall buildings – particularly those that are classed as higher-risk buildings – the Building Safety Act intends to address the issues around a lack of accountability throughout a building’s life cycle.

Those that can fulfil their duties and evidence their competencies will be well rewarded – not only from a commercial perspective, but by championing a safer sector too.

If you’re interested in learning more about the responsibilities and competency requirements for other duty holder roles, then be sure to check out our latest white papers.

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