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Principal Designer – a role still not well understood four years on

Building Consultancy

In April 2015, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 came into effect, with one of the most significant changes being the replacement of the CDM Coordinator with the Principal Designer.  Four years later, the effects of this change are not always well understood and can lead to unexpected costs on a development project.  James Jacobs, a chartered building surveyor experienced in delivering the Principal Designer role, sets out some of the key areas impacted by this regulation change, focusing on the duties and responsibilities of the client and Principal Designer.

What must a client do?

Following the changes to the regulations, the CDM Regulations now apply to both domestic and non-domestic building works of all sizes where there is more than one contractor appointed, or it is foreseeable that more than one may be working on a project.  In this circumstance, the client must appoint:

  • a Principal Designer
  • a Principal Contractor

If the client fails to appoint either role on a commercial project, the client takes on the responsibility of both.  This is to ensure that project leaders engage in the process and ensure their entire design team follows the process.

When must a client appoint?

Under the Regulations, the roles should be fulfilled as soon as the design works commence.  In practice however, we still see many projects where the role is picked up well past the initial concept design stage.  This can sometimes lead to costly changes to the building fabric in order to meet the necessary standards of safe design.  Even so, this can be a very difficult thing for clients to balance, particularly where projects may be speculative in nature.

The principals of prevention (ERIC)

ERIC stands for “Eliminate, Reduce, Inform and Control”, and relates to the principals of prevention.  Simply put, it is a flow chart for risk management:

  • First try to eliminate risk
  • If it cannot be eliminated, then reduce it where possible
  • Ensure that there is adequate information and control measures in place for any residual risks that exist following the process of design

To be clear, this is not a new concept, and the designers have been responsible for adhering to this principal in both this and the previous versions of the Regulations.  The Principal Designer must have sufficient influence over the design process if it doesn’t comply with the principals of safety.  The emphasis of the process is the end product, and not simply the process of construction.


Alder King as Principal Designers

Alder King has considerable experience as Principal Designer, with numerous projects underway across the country with a total value of circa £230 million.  Individual projects range in value from £1m to £50 million and include hotels, large student accommodation schemes, school projects and stadium enhancements.

We work with established design teams acting as Principal Designer directly for a client, or as a sub-consultant to the lead designer (typically the architect).  We pride ourselves in working collaboratively with the existing team, helping to identify avoidable risks early to prevent costly changes later, and of course to reduce opportunities for accidents.

All our Principal Designers are fully qualified and chartered building surveyors, meaning we have the necessary skills and expertise to understand the pre-construction process, and the technical knowledge to interact effectively with the wider design team.

Our skills, knowledge and expertise help us guide clients on the compiling of all necessary information to safely progress a project, as well as work closely with the appointed principal contractor, assisting in the review of the Construction Phase Plans.

Want to discuss your construction project?

If you need to appoint a Principal Designer for your construction project, contact James Jacobs who heads up the team for an informal chat.

You can find out more about our building consultancy services here.

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