New building safety regulator for England to be set up immediately

Out-Law News | 22 Jan 2020 | 11:50 am | 2 min. read

Planned measures to improve high-rise residential building and fire safety in England will be speeded up, the UK government has announced.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick this week announced a package of new guidance, consultations and legislation which will have significant implications for high-rise residential property developers, owners, managers and other 'duty holders' under health and safety law. Significantly, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been asked to set up a planned regulator immediately, before it is fully established by legislation. This regulator will oversee the new regime once fully operational.

Jenrick also warned that he would begin naming building owners who have not yet started removing unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding from their properties "unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks".

Health and safety law expert Katherine Metcalfe of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: "Parliament, industry and residents associations have been telling the government for some time that the pace of building safety reform has been too slow. The announced measures show a serious intent to kick-start progress".

Metcalfe Katherine

Katherine Metcalfe

Legal Director

The announced measures show a serious intent to kick-start progress on building safety reform.

"The focus is moving beyond ACM cladding on buildings over 18 metres in height to a new reality where everyone will need to analyse and mitigate the risks posed by the materials on residential and mixed use buildings. Duty holders can get ready for that now," she said.

The new building safety regulator will be established in 'shadow' form immediately as part of the HSE. It will be overseen by a board chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt, former HSE chair and author of the May 2018 report on building and fire safety commissioned by the government in response to the fatal fire at Grenfell Tower, London.

The government is consulting on tightening the ban on combustible cladding on new high-rise buildings, including proposals to lower the 18m height threshold to at least 11 metres in line with that in Scotland. It has also published a call for evidence on the best ways to prioritise building safety risk in existing buildings other than by building height. The cladding consultation closes on 13 April; and the call for evidence closes on 17 February.

New, consolidated advice on building safety for multi-storey, multi-occupied buildings has been published, bringing together and updating the content of the 22 separate advisory notes published to date by the government-appointed independent expert advisory panel. The emphasis of this advice has been changed to make it clear that building owners and responsible persons must consider the fire risks posed by external cladding on buildings of any height, not just those over 18m. The advice also sets out the actions building owners should take in relation to fire doors.

The government will begin naming and shaming building owners without clear plans to remediate unsafe cladding from next month, and intends to appoint a construction industry expert to review timescales and identify what can be done to speed up remediation work in the private sector. It is currently examining options to mitigate costs or provide alternative financing routes to individuals for whom cost is a barrier to remediation works.

A Fire Safety Bill will be introduced to the UK parliament shortly, in response to the recommendations of phase one of the Grenfell inquiry. The bill will strengthen existing fire safety legislation to ensure that external wall structures and external doors of individual flats are fully considered, and associated risk mitigated via fire risk assessments.

The new bill will also enhance the enforcement powers of fire and rescue services, and lay the groundwork for regulations requiring building owners to share information on wall systems with the fire service and undertake regular inspections of fire doors.