England to establish interim building safety 'protection board'

Out-Law News | 10 Sep 2019 | 1:06 pm | 2 min. read

A cross-agency 'protection board' will be set up in England, to oversee high-rise building and fire safety until the new building safety regulatory regime is fully operational.

The board, which is being set up by the Home Office and National Fire Chiefs Council, will receive up to £10 million in annual central government funding. As part of its work, the board will carry out inspections of all high-risk residential buildings in England by 2021, the government said.

The government has also opened a consultation on proposed changes to Approved Document B, the fire safety guidance which accompanies the building regulations; including a reduction in the minimum building height at which a sprinkler system must be installed from the current 30 metres, or 10 floors, to 18 metres, or six floors. The consultation closes on 28 November.

Metcalfe Katherine

Katherine Metcalfe

Legal Director

The pace of achieving cultural and regulatory reform is proving to be much slower than many had hoped.

Housing minister Robert Jenrick also said that he would "name and shame" private building owners who had not removed and replaced unsafe cladding made from aluminium composite material (ACM) in the coming months. A £200 million government fund for building owners who need financial support to remove unsafe ACM cladding opens for applications on 12 September.

Health and safety law expert Katherine Metcalfe of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said that of the latest announcements, the new protection board was particularly interesting.

"The new board is intended to be a stop gap until the new building safety regulator is established, but the announcement seems to envisage that it will take years to set up the new regulator. The pace of achieving cultural and regulatory reform is proving to be much slower than many had hoped," she said.

A government consultation on plans to overhaul the regulatory system for building safety in England, including the introduction of a new building safety regulator, closed on 31 July. The new regime is to apply to all new multi-occupied residential buildings over 18m in height, with parts regulating the occupation of buildings also applicable to existing buildings above the height threshold.

The consultation envisaged the creation of a new building safety regulator with overall responsibility for oversight of building safety, going significantly further than the 'joint competent authority' through which existing regulators would work together recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt in her government-commissioned review of the existing regime. The new regulator would oversee the new regulatory regime, industry competence initiatives and a mandatory occurrence reporting regime, backed by significant powers to impose civil and criminal penalties.

The interim protection board will ensure that building owners are acting on the latest safety advice; carry out any necessary inspections of high-risk residential buildings; keep residents updated; and make sure interim measures are in place for all buildings with unsafe ACM cladding. Its work will be informed by data supplied by local authorities on the types of cladding in use on high-rise residential buildings - an exercise which is being supported by an additional £4m in government funding.

The government carried out a technical review of Approved Document B of the building regulations late last year. Its first proposed changes include a new minimum height for mandatory building sprinkler systems; improved 'wayfinding' signage within high-rise blocks; and the introduction of an emergency evacuation alert system for use by fire and rescue services.