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  • Jon Cumberlidge

Building a Safer Future

Updated: May 1

It would have been easy to miss the significant announcements made recently by the Government on the future of building safety within England. Whilst the attention of the country, and indeed the world has been focused on the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, a response to the Building a Safer Future consultation has been published. This sets out a reformed system for the regulation, and process for the design, construction and occupation of high-rise residential buildings. The implementation of which will have far reaching affects for the construction industry a wider supply chain.


The paper entitled A reformed building safety regulatory system - Government response to the ‘Building a Safer Future’ consultation published 2nd April 2020 is the culmination of work that began in 2017 following the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, in which a fire spread in a ferocious and unprecedented manner claiming 72 victims. The building had recently undergone an extensive refurbishment programme, but the materials used, along with several other failures are believed to have contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, trapping many occupants within the building. Following the fire, the Government appointed Dame Judith Hackitt to undertake a detailed review of the Building Regulations and Fire Safety system. Hackitt’s scathing conclusion was that the system was ‘not fit for purpose’. This statement was perhaps proven staggeringly accurate when, during the Grenfell Public Inquiry led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the opening statements by the Royal Brough of Kensington and Chelsea, apologised for several failures made by their Local Authority Building Control (LABC) department who had approved the works to the tower. These included failures to keep sufficient records, not having a formal procedure for tracking of applications, failure to issue a decision notice amongst others. Interestingly the Government have not waited for the conclusions of the inquiry but have pushed on with reforms outlined in Dame Judith’s report.


Timeline leading to the latest Building a Safer Future report:



The latest report, A reformed building safety regulatory system - Government response to the ‘Building a Safer Future’ consultation, contains much detail, I have however pulled out a few key points for consideration.


Building Safety Regulator


The response confirms the establishment of a new regulatory body, the Building Safety Regulator (BSR), which will be part of the Health and safety Executive (HSE). The new BSR will oversee the safety and performance of all buildings, it will also actively oversee and enforce a more stringent regulatory regime for buildings in scope during their design, construction, occupation and refurbishment. It will replace the current Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC) and be responsible for reporting on the performance of building control bodies with sanctions for those who fail to meet the standards. It will also keep a register of all buildings in scope; these being multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 meters or more in height.


In addition, the BSR will have an enforcement and sanction role, with powers to issue ‘stop’ notices or where appropriate, the ability to prosecute duty-holders and/or the Accountable Person as appropriate, potentially leading to an unlimited fine.


Duty Holder Roles and Gateways


The new system introduces duty holder roles to ensure accountability. These duty holders (think CDM Regulations) will have responsibilities during design, construction and refurbishment stages through three Gateways. Gateway one – pre-planning, Gateway two – pre-construction and Gateway three – pre-occupation. Work will not be allowed to progress until these gateways have been successfully navigated.


Accountable Person and Building Safety Manager


There will also be duty holder roles during occupation. The system also creates the new roles of Accountable Person, who legally responsible for ensuring that they understand fire and structural risks in their buildings and to take appropriate steps and actions to mitigate and manage these fire and structural risks on an ongoing basis so the building can be safely occupied. And the Building Safety Manager role, who is someone approved under a system agreed by the Building Safety Regulator and appointed to support Accountable Persons in carrying out the day to day functions of ensuring that the building is safely managed.


Construction Products

A new national Construction Products regulatory role will be created. This will be responsible for, market surveillance and oversight of local enforcement action, including maintaining a national complaints system and supporting local Trading Standards in dealing with complex cases; enforcement action with manufacturers, where issues are judged to be national and/or significant; and providing advice and support to the industry to improve compliance as well as providing technical advice to the Government. In addition, a new Construction Products Standards Committee will be formed.

Competence


Those involved in the design, construction, refurbishment and management of in scope buildings will have to prove they are competent to do so. We are awaiting the final report from the Industry Steering Group which will set out an overarching competence framework standard that would cover all professions and trades and would set out the benchmark competence requirements including the relevant core skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours, to be used to ensure consistency across the built environment sector. Readers may be interested to read the interim report Raising the Bar – Improving Competence Building a Safer Future, published by the Construction Industry Council August 2019.


So, what happens next?


Whilst it is understandable that the Governments focus is on managing the Coronavirus response there seems to be a desire continue to push through building and fire safety related legislation. In fact the Fire Safety Bill 2019-21 had its second reading in Parliament only yesterday (29th April). To this end it is expected that a Building Safety Bill will be put before Parliament in the Autumn of this year. This will lay out the legislative framework for the new regime.


Sprinklers in May


Back in September 2019 a consultation entitled Sprinklers and other fire safety measures in new high-rise blocks of flats was released. The result of the consultation is the announcement by Government that an amendment to Approved Document B will be published soon (expected mid-May), this will mandate the inclusion of sprinklers within all residential blocks with a height of 11 meters or more. This is a significant step change with the pervious requirement being to provide sprinklers to blocks flats with a floor over 30 meters in height.


Final Thoughts


It is important to remember that the proposals only cover multi-occupied residential buildings over 18 metres in height. However there are some really positive cultural changes that we should embrace no matter what sector of the built environment we work in.


Whilst the new system will be different from what we know now, the proposals are clear that the new system is about ensuring buildings are safe without taking short cuts, and that those working on them have proven competence. Fortunately, that is what C3 have always done, and will continue to do so, no matter how big or small the project.

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