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Sun October 17 2021

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Wales publishes fire safety reform plans

12 Jan The Welsh government has published proposals for reform the fire safety of multi-occupied residential buildings.

Like similar reforms in England, the Welsh proposals are informed by the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London. However, they are not restricted to high rise buildings.

Proposals in the Safer Buildings in Wales white paper cover all multi-occupied residential buildings, from a house converted into two flats, to a high-rise apartment block.

Wales’ housing minister, Julie James, said that the reforms, if approved by the Senedd, would give Wales “the most comprehensive building safety regime in the UK”.

The white paper sets out reforms to the way properties are designed, built and managed, so that safety is observed at all stage of a building’s lifecycle. Lines of accountability are proposed for building owners and managers, as well as a stronger regulatory system.

As in England, the proposals create dutyholders with appropriate knowledge and expertise to be legally responsible for safety and reducing fire risk throughout the lifecycle of the building.

The concept of a ‘golden thread’ is introduced for all buildings of 18 metres or over, (again, as in England) with up-to-date information about design, construction and ongoing maintenance required.

There is to be a duty for buildings to contain the capacity to contain a fire where it originates for long enough to allow it to be extinguished.

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The Welsh government has already banned the use of combustible materials in cladding systems for all new residential buildings and hospitals over 18 metres in height.

Julie James said: “In the wake of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, the Welsh government has already taken action to make buildings safer for residents.

“It’s always been clear, however, that far more fundamental changes were needed to improve building safety in the round.

“That’s why we are proposing improvements to every stage of the life-cycle of multi-occupied buildings, from design, through construction and into occupation, so new buildings are safe for each and every resident.

“Most importantly, these proposals are designed to empower residents by giving them far more say in the matters that affect their homes and providing clear channels for them to speak up and alert those responsible when things go wrong. Those who own and manage our buildings must live up to their obligations to put things right.

“These proposals, if passed into law in the next Senedd term, will create a new and much improved regime which puts the safety of residents first.”

She added: “We are also engaging with the UK government and industry on aspects of our reforms.  A key area for the future will be setting uniform expectations for competence and skills. The draft UK Building Safety Bill proposes to extend some powers to Welsh ministers in relation to design and construction which will allow us to establish a more robust regulatory process alongside our legislative reforms. There are clear opportunities and benefits of a consistent approach which will assist the construction industry and the wider housing sector to make significant adjustments in light of these reforms.”

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