As commentators in the building and fire safety industry give their take on the new Building Safety Bill , they are using phrases such as “fundamental change” and “new era”. If it’s all it’s cracked up to be, this new legislation will shake up local authority building control teams and make a lasting change to the building industry, particularly in regard to high-rise residential buildings.
The Bill has come about as a result of recommendations by Dame Judith Hackitt (JH) who was appointed to examine the flaws in the building safety regime which had contributed to the Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017. JH’s report exposed serious failings and made a large number of recommendations for reform. The government accepted the review’s recommendations and initially addressed some of them by publishing a Fire Safety Bill in the spring of 2020. When enacted, fire risk assessments for multi-occupancy residential buildings must become more detailed. The second part of the government’s response is being addressed in the form of this building Bill.
One concern arising from the Grenfell inquiry and JH’s report is that residents’ concerns were ignored by the building management company. To prevent the same happening in the future, the Bill includes a requirement to appoint an “accountable person” for each high-rise building in England – those over 18 metres or six storeys in height. The role will include the need to listen to and respond to residents’ concerns and an overriding responsibility for their safety. Residents and leaseholders will have a right to vital safety information about their building, such as the fire safety measures in place and maintenance records.
Fundamentally, the structure for the regulation of building safety is to change. A new national regulator for building safety is being formed within the HSE. It will oversee the safety of high -rise buildings and have new powers to raise and enforce higher standards of safety and performance across all buildings. High-rise residential buildings in England will be listed on a register with the new regulator, and a safety case will be required in order to gain a building assurance certificate. Occupation of a relevant building will only be permitted if there is a valid certificate, and these will be reviewed every five years. Failure to comply with the conditions in the certificate will be a criminal offence. There will also be measures to protect leaseholders from unfair charges for safety work.
In addition to the specifics of high rises, the new regulator will have a wider role in overseeing the building control system, much as the HSE does currently for health and safety. Within this role it will hold a register of building inspectors who will be required to follow new stricter rules including meeting competency criteria.
Tip. The proposals within this Bill will almost certainly come into force, though we don’t know when. If you’re involved in construction or the management of high-rise buildings, keep up to date with industry news. There are going to be many changes in the next year or two.
You can download a copy of the draft bill here