The Fire Safety Bill was introduced to the House of Commons and given its first reading on Thursday 19th March 2020. This is just a procedural stage and takes place without any debate but forms a key part of the government’s post Grenfell Tower fire reforms.
If enacted, the bill will amend the Fire Safety Order 2005 to clarify that the responsible person or duty-holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire for:
- the structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows
- entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts.
This clarification will empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant.
The bill, in its current form, applies to any building that “contains two or more sets of domestic premises”, which strongly suggests that it applies not just to high-rise tower blocks but also to terraced and semi-detached housing.
The bill is being piloted by James Brokenshire, who was previously secretary of state for housing, communities and local government for 15 months until July 2019 but is now a minister of state in the Home Office, with responsibility for security.
He said: “We remain committed to implementing the recommendations made following phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, and the government has already made major reforms to building safety. Today’s bill will help bring about meaningful change to improving building safety.”
The bill will provide a foundation for secondary legislation to take forward recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report, which stated that building owners and managers of high-rise and multi-occupied residential buildings should be responsible for a number of areas including:
- regular inspections of lifts and the reporting of results to the local fire and rescue services
- ensuring evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated and personal evacuation plans are in place for residents whose ability to evacuate may be compromised
- ensuring fire safety instructions are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand
- ensuring individual flat entrance doors, where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding, comply with current standards.
The bill will also give the secretary of state for housing the powers to amend the list of qualifying premises that fall within the scope of the Fire Safety Order by way of secondary legislation, enabling the government to respond more quickly to developments in the design and construction of buildings.
Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council Roy Wilsher said: “I am pleased to see the announcement of the new Fire Safety Bill. We have been calling for additional powers since 2017 and these changes should contribute to the public feeling safer in their homes.
“We look forward to seeing additional supportive measures to assist fire and rescue services, identify different types of cladding and take appropriate measures.”
Some 72 people were killed after a fire broke out on 14th June 2017 in Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey block of flats in west London. It soon emerged that the fire had spread rapidly because the cladding system that had recently been retrofitted was not just combustible but also missing the barriers that should have retarded the spread of fire.
The Fire Safety Bill is one of a number of post-Grenfell measures, along with the creation of a Building Safety Regulator and a Building Safety Bill, to clarify accountability and duties on those responsible for high rise buildings