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Building a Safer Future: Government response to consultation, update to Approved Document B, and Fire Safety Bill

Last month the government published its response to the Building a Safer Future consultation on the proposals arising out of the recommendations in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report. The government has in the last 2 months implemented or begun the process of implementing a number of measures supporting this response.

Consultation response

  1. What do the proposals apply to?

The proposals only apply in England, with the exception of those relating to construction products and the competence of architects, which will apply UK-wide.  Within England, the new safety regime is proposed to apply initially to all multi-occupied residential building of at least 18 metres tall or 6 storeys, whichever is reached first (buildings “in scope”), but there is potential for this to be extended to other premises.  This would be done on the advice of the new Building Safety Regulator, which will have a duty to keep the scope of the regulatory system under review.

       2. How will the reforms be put in place?

There will be new primary legislation through the Building Safety Bill.  There will also be further secondary legislation as required.

       3. How do the proposals differ from those set out in the consultation?

The 871 responses to the consultation were generally supportive of the principles of and proposals for the new regulatory system.  The major changes are:

  • All three Gateway (key sign off) points in a building’s life cycle will apply to all buildings in scope: the consultation proposals were for the first Gateway (a requirement to submit a Fire Statement addressing relevant fire safety considerations) with the planning application) to apply only to taller buildings 30m or more in height, but responses were concerned that this would lead to an inconsistent approach and gaming of the system. The second Gateway is a full review and approval from the new Building Safety Regulator before construction can commence, and the third Gateway is final as-built approval prior to occupancy, at the final completion certificate / final notice stage under the building regulations.
  • The government has adopted suggestions in responses that either the Building Safety Regulator, which will be responsible for oversight of the competence and performance of building control professionals and the building controls bodies in which they work, or a body designated by the Building Safety Regulator, will oversee both local authority building control and private sector Approved Inspectors.
  • The government intends to address concerns raised in responses over the interaction between enforcement under the Housing Act 2004 following a Housing Health and Safety Rating System assessment, the Fire Safety Order (which came into force in October 2006), and the new regime by making sure there is clear guidance in place about how each regime applies in multi-occupied residential buildings, and also making sure there are effective local agreements in place between the respective regulators on how the regimes will be enforced and how information is shared to ensure residents are, and feel, safe in their homes.
  • The government has said in its response that it intends to look to use the Building Safety Bill to make improvements to other parts of building regulations legislation, affecting potentially all buildings. The intention is that these improvements will improve building safety, make the legislation clearer and more understandable, and so strengthen compliance and help enforcement.

Update to Approved Document B

As confirmed in the Housing Secretary’s letter, the government has published an update to Approved Document B, in line with the consultation response.  This update includes increased fire safety measures in high-rise blocks of flats, particularly provisions of sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage.  This will apply to all new high-rise blocks of flats over 11 metres tall (4 storeys).  As confirmed in the Housing Secretary’s letter, further updates to Approved Document B are envisaged to implement further safety requirements.

ACM cladding

The consistent advice from the government’s Expert Panel has been that ACM cladding is unsafe and must be replaced on all building, and that other cladding materials should be assessed for safety and remediated where found to be unsafe.  However, these remedial works had significantly stalled, due in no small part by works being postponed as a result of Covid-19.  Having already provided £600m for the replacement of ACM cladding, the Government has now launched a £1 billion funding programme to support the remediation works of non-ACM cladding on residential building in the private and social sector that are 18 metres and over.  Registration for assessment of eligibility is open from the first week in June until 31 July 2020.

The proposals only apply in England, with the exception of those relating to construction products and the competence of architects, which will apply UK-wide.

Fire Safety Bill

Alongside the consultation response, Parliament has been considering the Fire Safety Bill, which will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to provide greater clarity on the duties of the Responsible Person or duty holder for multi-occupied residential buildings.

In particular, the scope of the Fire Safety Order will be extended to clarify that the duty holder is responsible for managing and reducing the risk of fire for not only the common areas of the building (e.g. entrance halls, stairwells, and landings) but also the structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies, windows and entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts, even if they are owned by leaseholders.  This is because a fire door from a flat to a common area is a safety feature for the benefit of all occupants of the building, not just the individual leaseholder who owns it.  Pending the bill being passed, the government has encouraged those with fire safety responsibility for multi-occupancy residential buildings to include flat entrance doors and external wall systems as part of their fire risk assessment as soon as possible, if they have not already done so.

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