July 21, 2020

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Draft Building Safety Bill announced by UK government

Alongside the Fire Safety Bill and fire safety consultation, the Building Safety Bill is said to be bringing the “biggest improvements to building safety in nearly 40 years”. The Draft Bill was announced yesterday (20 July) by Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The 334-page long bill is in response to the findings of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building a Safer Future, originally published in May 2018 following an independent review of fire safety in buildings as a result of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

What happens next?

The Draft Building Safety Bill, like all draft bills, will now be examined by a Parliamentary Committee, who will offer feedback with their findings before it is finalised. Stakeholders and external experts will also be consulted.

This process is designed to enable consultation and scrutiny, before being formally introduced into the House of Commons and House of Lords.

In the opening foreword, Mr Jenrick highlighted that the reforms will bring forward ‘significant and fundamental changes to building safety legislation,’ with ‘wholesale reform of the regulatory system’ central to this process. The Bill is designed to introduce greater clarity on accountability and those responsible for managing safety risks in high rise buildings. There will also be ‘tougher sanctions’ for those who fail in their responsibilities.

Robert Jenrick

Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

Mr Jenrick added: “Industry should also prepare for the substantial changes that are coming. Many in industry have already been working to improve standards and have shaped and influenced this Bill. Now they must accelerate this work to improve industry wide culture, competence and compliance. The new Building Safety Regulator will work closely with industry to drive a change in culture that prioritises residents and ensures their safety.”A new Building Safety Regulator will be key to all of this. Housed in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it will be responsible for overseeing the “safety and performance of all buildings”.

The new Bill covers the wide ranging changes to the regulatory scheme for assessing and enforcing building safety, including but not limited to:

  • The responsibilities of the Regulator and its general functions (including those specific to high risk buildings);
  • The role of the Building Advisory Committee, including a Residents’ panel;
  • Building safety risks, including its meaning, recommendations and advice – these include fire and structural failures;
  • The meaning of ‘higher-risk buildings’, accountable persons, building safety managers and duties relating to building safety risks and engagement with residents;
  • Building control authorities and building regulations;
  • The new homes ombudsman scheme (designed to investigate and determine complaints from owners or occupants).

The three broad functions of the building safety regulator will be to:

  • ‘Implement the new, more stringent regulatory regime for higher-risk buildings’;
  • ‘Oversee the safety and performance of all buildings’;
  • ‘Assist and encourage competence among the built environment industry, and registered building inspectors’.

A more stringent set of rules for high-rise residential buildings will apply at design, construction and occupation stages. At each stage the Bill is designed to make it clear those responsible for managing risk, and detail the requirements to move to the next stage – in relation to Dame Hackitt’s ‘golden thread’ of information proposals.

The Accountable Person of buildings are required to appoint a Building Safety Manager, who must have experience in this role, while the Building Safety Regulator may veto this appointment if deemed necessary.

The Regulator will also be given new powers to ensure compliance with the new measures via prosecution. For those who fail in compliance with building regulations, prosecution has been extended from two years, to 10 years, and from one year to 10 years for section 36 notices, for instance.

In addition, there are new provisions relating to construction products. In summary, the Bill provides powers so that all construction products marketed in the UK fall under a regulatory regime. Included within this is the concept of a “safety critical product”, giving the Secretary of State power to make regulations to place such products on a statutory list.

Changes for residents…

Following the numerous complaints from Grenfell residents that their concerns were not listened to before the events of June 2017, the Bill is also making greater provisions for improved communication. Building Safety Managers will have to “listen and respond to residents’ concerns”, while occupants will also have access to safety information regarding their building.

A panel of residents is set to be created, to help develop the work of the Building Safety Regulator, too.

Within the Bill, ministers are proposing that tenants may have to pay a ‘building safety charge’ if required by the landlord, which include fire safety works. Any use of this must include an explanation, and can be used no more than once in any three month period. The new charge will be kept separate from the service charge bill, so that such instances can be better accounted for.

The Government has also highlighted that it will ‘continue to engage with stakeholders, including leaseholders’ while the draft Bill is under review, to ensure leaseholders won’t have to pay unaffordable costs for historic building repairs. A new ‘building safety charge’ is set to be introduced, designed to make it clear what leaseholders are being charged for. Limits on costs will be set, however.

Sector backing

HSE Chief Executive Sarah Albon said: “HSE fully supports the measures set out in the draft bill to move forward and enhance building safety across England.

“HSE is currently working with other parts of government, key regulators and industry to establish how the new legislation can be implemented in a practical way and create a new regime that improves building safety standards and competence across the industry.”

HSE will also lead the government’s Joint Regulators Group (JRG), which will provide coordinated leadership to local authority and fire & rescue regulators during the transition to the new regulatory regime. It will support the development of close working arrangements between the BSR and local regulators, while continuing to work with early adopters to trial new safety approaches.

The JRG will be chaired by Peter Baker, Director of the Building Safety and Construction Division of HSE said: “The BSR will create a new era for building safety, working with wider government, local regulators, industry and residents we want to ensure that a tragedy like Grenfell Tower never happens again.

“Through appropriate use of its enforcement powers under the new regulatory framework, the BSR will ensure that building safety risks are being properly managed and controlled throughout the lifecycle of a building. It will also hold those with legal duties to account for significant failures.”

He added: “In my role as chair of the JRG I will work together with members to ensure that the proposals are both robust and practical.”

The move has also been welcomed by the fire sector, as it starts the detailed business of binding new fire and building safety regimes into law.

Fire Sector Federation Chairman Michael Harper siad: “After calling for action over so long a period this is a most welcome moment.

“We all realise changing the country’s fire and building control systems is a complex and demanding task. Throughout a building’s life, from the drawing board until its demolished, there has to be a system of control that ensures safety does match the different phases of construction, occupation, and use. Intrinsic within the construction sector is innovation affecting all of these multiple life phases and throughout occupation a building’s use and its users change so a new regime has to be adaptable and well founded on life safety principles.

“As we enter the Bill’s examination and the Home Office consultation stages our Federation will be seeking to ensure a principled fire safety foundation is firmly established”.

Niall Rowan, Association for Specialist Fire Protection CEO, echoed the thoughts: “We welcome the draft Building Safety Bill as an important first step in building safety reform but, the implementation and development of the detailed secondary legislation will be key to its success in implementing all the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s report “Building a Safer Future.

“While the Bill establishes the overarching framework it does little to define how these regulators will operate, the requirements they will define and impose and how they will enforce.

“The Building Safety Bill must be applauded for its vision and aspiration to herald a new era of building safety which is strictly enforced. Its publication is a welcome step forward and the ASFP looks forward to working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and with industry stakeholders to ensure that it lives up to this early promise.”

This article was originally published on IFSEC Global.

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