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Fri July 30 2021

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Building Safety Bill finally starts its passage

5 Jul Four years after the Grenfell Tower fire and three years after the Hackitt Review, parliament is finally setting out to consider the necessary reform of building regulations.

The legislation was prompted by issues arising from the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire
The legislation was prompted by issues arising from the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire

The landmark Building Safety Bill was presented to parliament for its first reading today, Monday 5th July 2021, to implement some of the recommendations of the Hackitt Review that followed the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

The legislation was promised by government in the October 2019 Queen's Speech, before the Covid-19 pandemic. A draft bill was published in July 2020 for initial scrutiny and comment. This is now back again with certain revisions.

The proposed legislation now starting its way through parliament prinarily seeks to create the Building Safety Regulator – introducing a new regime for the construction and management of high-rise buildings in England and Wales – as well as the New Homes Ombudsman and the Construction Products Regulator. The latter will cover the whole of the UK.

The Health & Safety Exectuvie will be the designated Building Safety Regulator and will oversee the new regime in England and Wales. It will be responsible for ensuring that any building safety risks in new and existing residential buildings higher than 18 metres are effectively managed and resolved.

This 18-metre threshold is likely to be challenged during the passage of the legislation through parliament, with amendments almost certain to be proposed seeking to lower it.

The draft legislation is designed to establish in law the concept of a ‘golden thread’ of information created, stored and updated throughout the building’s lifecycle – including design, construction and handover – ensure that residents’ safety is considered every stage.

The reforms build on Building a Safer Future,  Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety, published in August 2018, which highlighted a need for significant cultural and regulatory change.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “This Bill will ensure high standards of safety for people’s homes, and in particular for high rise buildings, with a new regulator providing essential oversight at every stage of a building’s lifecycle, from design, construction, completion to occupation.

“The new building safety regime will be a proportionate one, ensuring those buildings requiring remediation are brought to an acceptable standard of safety swiftly, and reassuring the vast majority of residents and leaseholders in those buildings that their homes are safe.”

Under the revised proposals, the government is more than doubling the amount of time, from six to 15 years, that residents can seek compensation for sub-standard construction work. The changes will apply retrospectively. This means that residents of a building completed in 2010 would be able to bring proceedings against the developer until 2025.

These reforms also include new measures which apply to those seeking compensation for shoddy refurbishments.

The Bill will include powers to strengthen the regulatory framework for construction products, led by the Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS).     

Developers will also be required to join the New Homes Ombudsman scheme, which will require them to provide redress to a homebuyer, including through the awarding of compensation. Developers who breach the requirement to belong to the New Homes Ombudsman may receive additional sanctions.

Minister for building and fire safety Lord Greenhalgh said:  “Though the overall risk of fire across all buildings remains low, we can’t be complacent - the more robust regime will take a proportionate and risk-based approach to remediation and other safety risks.    

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“And by increasing our measures of enforcement, we will make sure industry follows the rules – and is held to account when it doesn’t.”    

Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of the independent review, said:  “I am delighted that we have reached this important milestone for the Building Safety Bill. It is vital that we focus on getting the system right for the future and set new standards for building safety.

“Residents and other stakeholders need to have their confidence in high rise buildings restored and those who undertake such projects must be held to account for delivering safe buildings.”

Peter Baker, chief inspector of buildings at the Health & Safety Executive, said: “I welcome the introduction of the Building Safety Bill, which will give HSE the tools to deliver its important role as the Building Safety Regulator and is an important step in setting out what will be expected of future duty holders.

“Everyone involved in higher risk buildings from design, construction and day-to-day operations will manage and control building safety in a way that is proportionate to the risks. This will ensure these buildings are safer for those who live in them and they have a stronger voice. I encourage duty holders to use the Bill’s introduction in preparation for the new, more rigorous regulatory regime.

“The Building Safety Regulator will continue to work with industry and others to deliver the new building safety regime to ensure that residents of higher risk buildings are safe, and feel safe, in their homes now and in the future.”

The Building Safety Bill has six parts, 147 clauses and 218 pages in its initial form.

Part 1 provides an overview of the Bill. The Bill makes a number of changes to existing legislation, most notably the Building Act 1984.

Part 2 contains provision about the building safety regulator and its functions in relation to buildings in England. It establishes the Building Safety Regulator within the HSE.

Part 3 amends the Building Act 1984 to make the regulator the building control authority in relation to higher-risk buildings in England, and to require the regulator (for England) and the Welsh ministers (for Wales) to establish and maintain registers of building control approvers and building inspectors.

Part 4 is concerned with higher-risk residential buildings in England when they are occupied, and defines the scope of the regime for higher-risk buildings in occupation. It defines and places duties on the Accountable Person (the dutyholder in occupation) in relation to building safety risks in their building.

Part 5 contains further provisions about remediation and redress. It includes provisions to require a New Homes Ombudsman scheme to be established, and powers to make provision for regulation of construction products for the UK. It amends the Architects Act 1997 to allow disciplinary orders made against architects by the professional conduct committee of the Architects Registration Board to be listed alongside an architect’s entry in the Register of Architects. It also removes the ‘democratic filter’ which requires social housing residents wishing to escalate a complaint to the Housing Ombudsman to do this via a ‘designated person’ or wait eight weeks.

Part 6 contains the technical clauses related to the Bill, including Crown application and provision for liability of officers.

The Building Safety Bill can be found here: bills.parliament.uk/bills/3021

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