The Fire Sector Federation welcomes the government’s Bill and the introduction of the new Building Safety Regulator
The government’s recently published Building Safety Bill seeks to ‘set out a clear pathway for the future of how residential buildings should be constructed and maintained’.
It has taken four years to reach this stage and places the emphasis for success on the role of the new Building Safety Regulator, who will oversee the new regime with responsibility for ensuring that building safety risks in new and existing high-rise residential buildings of 18 m and above are effectively managed.
The new regime will include having specific gateway points at the design, construction and completion phases so that safety is considered at each crucial stage in a building’s construction and from the earliest stages of the planning process.
The government intends that these changes will both simplify and verify that high standards are continuously met, with a ‘golden thread’ of information created, stored and updated throughout the building’s lifecycle, thus establishing clear obligations for owners and enabling the regulator to take swift action wherever necessary.
The Bill contains measures to strengthen the regulatory framework for construction products, underpinned by a market surveillance and enforcement regime led nationally by the new Office for Product Safety and Standards. The national regulator will be able to remove products from the market if they present safety risks and prosecute or use civil penalties against any business that breaks these rules and compromises public safety.
There is also a retrospective extension of the time limit from six to 15 years for claims under the Defective Premises Act and breaches of Building Regulations.
The Bill has been broadly welcomed by all in the construction, fire and safety sectors and is recognised as a landmark piece of legislation in taking forward the recommendations of the Hackitt Report on the Grenfell fire. However, the devil will be in the detail and much of that has yet to be seen.
There are some concerns in the industry that there has not been enough focus on risk beyond height and that there are many buildings below 18 m or seven stories with unqualified risks that could be ignored. There is also a view expressed by many that the government should hold developers, builders and product manufacturers to account rather than expecting individual leaseholders to do so with worries of latent liabilities for those expected to assess risks that can often be difficult to identify.
The Fire Sector Federation, along with most in the fire sector, has always advocated the introduction of third-party certification as a simple and effective way to ensure quality and safety in our built environment. The Bill appears to have missed an opportunity to enact a national system for third-party accreditation and registration for all professionals working on the design and construction of buildings and not mandating competency in some tasks.
The government has published a transition plan for the Bill with an expectation that passage through parliament will take at least nine months. Government expects that “the bulk of the new provisions” will be brought into force within 12 to 18 months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. That is a timeline that runs into the early part of 2024.