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Sun October 25 2020

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High hopes for Building Safety Bill

20 Jul Today sees the publication of draft legislation that the government describes as the biggest changes to building safety for nearly 40 years.

It's all about reducing the chances of this happening again
It's all about reducing the chances of this happening again

The Building Safety Bill brings in new regulations in the wake of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire and subsequent report into systemic failings by Dame Judith Hackitt.

If and when the bill is enacted, people living in high rise buildings will be empowered to challenge inaction from their building owner and have better access to safety information about their building. They will also have access to a complaints process.

The draft bill will also give the government new powers to regulate construction materials and products.

High-rise remains defined as at least 18 metres or six storeys, but – as with any aspect of the bill – this is open to debate and amendment during the passage of the legislation through parliament.

The Building Safety Regulator, already being set up within the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), will be able hold building owners to account. The regulator will have three main functions: to oversee the safety and standard of all buildings; directly assure the safety of higher-risk buildings; and improve the competence of people responsible for managing and overseeing building work. The government is providing an extra £16.4m for the HSE this year to recruit staff and set up the regulator.

The new rules, as set out in the bill, will apply when buildings are designed, constructed and then later occupied. At each of these three stages, it will be clear who is responsible for managing the potential risks and what is required to move to the next stage – creating what has become known as the ‘golden thread’ of information about the building to be gathered over its lifetime.

When residents move into a building that falls under the new set of rules, it will need to be registered with the Building Safety Regulator and apply for a Building Assurance Certificate. The accountable person will then need to conduct and maintain a safety case risk assessment for the building and appoint a building safety manager to oversee it day to day. 

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Building inspectors, who are responsible for signing buildings off as fit for inhabitation, will also have to follow the new rules and must register with the regulator.

The government views the legislation as a framework that can and will further evolve as more is learned about building safety. Further restrictions on certain building products and materials will not need further legislation; the necessary powers will already be there.

The Home Office is also publishing a consultation paper that sets out proposals to implement the recommendations from phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry that require a change in law. The consultation will also look at strengthening fire safety in all regulated buildings in England.

In addition to the consultation, the Fire Safety Bill is also currently making its way through parliament to empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant with the law.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “I remain committed to making sure we get this right, which is why I will be publishing the draft bill for scrutiny and improvement before it is introduced in parliament. I am also calling on the industry to actively prepare for these changes now. It is vital that the sector moves in step with us, to provide confidence and reassurance to residents that their safety is firmly at the heart of everything we do.”

Dame Judith Hackitt, who wrote the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety that informed the legislation, gave the bill her seal of approval. “I welcome this draft bill as an important milestone in delivering the fundamental reform this industry needs to make residents and buildings safer. It meets the ambitions and recommendations set out in my review,” she said. “And industry must be in no doubt that it is not enough to wait for the Bill to become law before they implement changes; we expect them to start taking action now.”

Peter Baker, director of the building safety and construction division of the HSE, said: “The BSR [building safety regulator] 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.”

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