At the start of June the Government launched a consultation on its proposals for reform of the Building Safety Regulatory System. As most people are aware, the impetus for the reform came from the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The UK Government requested an independent review of building regulations and fire safety in high-rise residential buildings in England, commissioning Dame Judith Hackitt to conduct it. The Hackitt Review was completed and published last May with the Government then publishing its implementation plan ‘Building a Safer Future’ at the end of last year. Ministers are now poised to bring in laws to improve building safety by creating a new regulatory system and are seeking views via the consultation to enable this to happen. What are the main themes within the consultation? Along with a review of actions that took place immediately after the fire, the consultation covers five main areas:
  • Establishing the new scope
The scope of buildings to which the new requirements will apply has expanded - notably with a proposed reduction of the height threshold from 30m to 18m for all multi-occupied residential buildings. As a rough guide this would cover buildings of at least 6 storeys.
  • Introducing a new duty holder regime
In ‘Building a Safer Future’, the Government put forward what it called ‘The Golden Thread’ which relates to new duties of care applying within the entire life cycle of a building to facilitate the capture and maintenance of all building information. So the proposals introduce the concept of duty holders to achieve this aim. They’ll have clearly identified responsibilities throughout an in-scope building’s design, construction and occupation with ongoing duties that apply across the lifecycle of that building.
  • Giving residents a far louder and clearer voice
The horrifying fact that Grenfell Tower residents had raised fire safety concerns many times but were ignored was widely reported after the fire.  Residents’ safety now lies at the heart of this new regulatory system, with proposals in place to ensure concerns are never ignored and that residents will have a much louder voice on potential building issues.  The proposals include better information to increase participation in decisions about safety. They also deal with the need to have a way to quickly escalate issues if concerns are not being properly dealt with.
  • More effective regulation
The proposals outline plans for a new building safety regulator to enable the development of a more effective regulatory and accountability framework for buildings. It’ll provide oversight of the new building safety regime with responsibility for all aspects of the safety of new and existing buildings. The regulator will also have the power to take action by imposing criminal or civil sanctions like fines or imprisonment for serious breaches. Additionally the regulator will be involved in monitoring efforts to assure the competence of those working on buildings. It’s also intended that regulation of construction products will be strengthened.
  • Improved enforcement, compliance and sanctions
The proposals include a raft of measures designed to tighten up enforcement, and sanctions to deter and if necessary punish non-compliance.  It’s proposed there’s a 3 step process starting with a more collaborative approach but ultimately ending with enforcement and prosecution if all else fails. The Fire Safety Order The Fire Safety Order came under intense scrutiny during the Hackitt Review. So alongside the above consultation, there’s also a consultation taking place on the Fire Safety Order to ensure it is fit for purpose. It’s asking for views from the fire safety sector, those regulated by the Order and enforcing authorities and presents an important opportunity to share thoughts and experiences of how the Order is working in practice. Do the Government’s proposals go far enough? The proposals, which were long overdue in the opinion of many, have been widely welcomed with recognition of the fact that some of them go beyond the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt. There are however signs that some bodies feel there remain opportunities to do more. The Government is seeking views on whether some reforms could be extended to other premises where people sleep but the Royal Institute of British Architects, for example, has expressed a view that these regulations also need extending to other high risk buildings including schools. The National Fire Chiefs Council is pushing for greater improvements to fire fighting facilities in buildings.  Housing charity Shelter has expressed concern that the proposals doesn’t go far enough in ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of all tenants and is seeking a new consumer regulator to protect tenants and inspect social landlords. Most would agree however that these proposals are a vital step in initiating a real culture change to ensure buildings and those who use them are kept safe. If you’d like to make your views known on any aspect of the consultation you have until the 31 July to submit them here. As a property manager or someone responsible for the safety of people within your premises, if you have any concerns relating to how protected your building is from fire, please do not hesitate to contact us here.