Feb 10, 2020 | Blog

Tristan Meears-White: New Building Safety and Fire Safety Bills

by Tristan Meears-White

2019 was a pretty exhausting year for us all but as she stoically marched through her 94th year, HM the Queen must have felt she suffered more than most from Brexit-induced shenanigans – after allegedly being fibbed to over prorogation she seemed to appear at the House of Commons almost as frequently as  political editor of BBC News, Laura Kuenssberg.

However, in her most recent Queen’s Speech, I’m sure she was as encouraged as I was to hear it announced that ministers will introduce a raft of new measures which seek to cover all 53 of Dame Judith Hackett’s recommendations following the Grenfell Tower fire – these proposals are set out in the government’s new Building Safety and Fire Safety Bills. I will try to summarise their key provisions.

Ministers announced that the Building Safety Bill will bring “new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products, and ensure residents have a stronger voice in the system”. The mechanism for capturing those voices is unclear at present but will be critical to how this new legislation is judged. It is ambitious.

The Bill seeks to “learn the lessons” of Grenfell and strengthen “the whole regulatory system for building safety, including fundamental changes to the regulatory framework for high-rise residential buildings”.

Interestingly it also aims to prompt a cultural change in “to ensure accountability and responsibility and ensuring residents are safe in their homes” – most of us who have tried to prompt a change in culture will understand how difficult that can be; again the “how” is going to be of central importance here.

Building Safety Bill

The Building Safety Bill’s main elements comprise an enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings, taking forward the recommendations from Dame Judith’s independent review of building safety, and in some areas going further by:

  • Providing clearer accountability and stronger duties for those responsible for the safety of high-rise buildings throughout the building’s design, construction, and occupation, with clear competence requirements to maintain high standards;
  • Giving residents a stronger voice in the system, ensuring concerns are not ignored and they fully understand how they can contribute to maintaining safety in their buildings;
  • Strengthening enforcement and sanctions to deter non-compliance with the new regime, holding the right parties to account when mistakes are made;
  • Developing a new stronger and clearer framework to provide national oversight of construction products, to ensure all products meet high-performance standards;
  • Developing a new system to oversee the whole built environment, with local enforcement agencies and national regulators working together to ensure that the safety of all buildings is improved
  • Legislating to require that developers of new-build homes must belong to a New Homes Ombudsman scheme

Fire Safety Bill

The Fire Safety Bill seeks to “ensure an appalling tragedy like Grenfell can never happen again” – and strongly hints at support in full for the findings of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry Phase One Report, released earlier this year.

Outlined as the “main benefits of the Bill”, there is mention of providing residents with the reassurance that lessons have been learned as well as making clear building owners and managers know they are responsible for making a suitable and sufficient risk of external walls and fire doors.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Clarifying that the scope of the Fire Safety Order includes the external walls of the building, including cladding, and fire doors for domestic premises of multiple occupancy;
  • Strengthening enforcement powers to hold building owners and managers to account;
  • Providing a transitional period for building owners and managers (the ‘responsible person’) and Fire and Rescue Services to put in place the infrastructure for these changes.

As with all draft legislation, scrutiny of the detail and the devil therein will be important (and having a fully funded enforcement regime) but few would disagree that action is long overdue – so to these new Bills I give a guarded but warm welcome.

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This blog was written by Tristan Meears-White, Notify’s resident Subject Matter Expert. Tris is a Health and Safety lawyer hailed as a “key individual” by Chambers UK and a “first-class health and safety lawyer” by Legal 500 2018/2019. More about Tris here.

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