UK confirms high rise building safety reforms

Out-Law News | 17 Apr 2020 | 5:21 pm | 3 min. read

Changes to the regulatory regime governing high rise building and fire safety in England remain a "top priority" for the UK government regardless of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the housing secretary has said.

Robert Jenrick said that vital maintenance and repair work "critical to public safety" can continue to take place in line with public health guidance. Jenrick was speaking as the government published its response to a consultation on fundamental reforms to the building and fire safety regime for buildings over 18 metres, or five storeys, in height, in which it set out its plans for a new Building Safety Bill and confirmed the introduction of a planned new regulator.

Newly-announced measures include mandatory sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage in new high rise blocks of residential flats over 11 metres, or three storeys, in height. The government has also appointed David Hancock of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) to review progress on removing unsafe aluminium composite (ACM) cladding from existing buildings.

The new announcements follow the introduction of the Fire Safety Bill, which requires owners and managers of multi-occupancy residential buildings to reduce the risk of fire through unsafe cladding and entrance doors, to the House of Commons, as well as £1 billion in new funding for the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding on existing high-rise residential buildings in the private and social housing sectors. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also begun setting up the new building safety regulator in 'shadow' form.

Elson Sean

Sean Elson

Partner

Under the HSE, we can expect a robust regime where duty holders will be held to account.

Health and safety law expert Sean Elson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: "Under the HSE, we can expect a robust regime where duty holders will be held to account".

"The consultation response provides further detail of the how the government sees the new building safety regulator, local authority building control and approved inspectors working together. It is clear that the HSE will be taking the lead. Building control will have a supporting, technical role for buildings in scope. Approved inspectors will be used to provide additional capacity for local authority building control but duty holders will no longer be able to choose who oversees construction or refurbishment work," he said.

The government consulted last year on its plans for a new high rise building safety regime, building on proposals made by independent expert Dame Judith Hackitt in her independent review of building regulations and fire safety. The new regime will consist of a new building safety regulator, with significant powers to impose civil and criminal penalties, as well as industry competence initiatives and a mandatory occurrence reporting regime.

Once the new regime is fully operational, those building or carrying out significant refurbishment of new residential high rise buildings will be required to seek approval from the new regulator at three 'gateway' stages: planning permission, pre-construction and pre-occupation. Owners of existing buildings will be required to seek approval from the new regulator at gateway 3, pre-occupation, on a phased basis.

The new regime will be delivered through the creation of a system of duty-holders, with clear responsibilities at each stage of the building's life cycle. Duty-holders will be responsible for creating and maintaining the 'golden thread' of building safety information, following guidance and specifications to be published by the government. Duty-holder roles during the construction, design and refurbishment phase will mirror those in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM 2015): client; principal designer and designer; and principal contractor and contractor.

The client, principal designer and principal contractor will be required to produce and co-sign a final declaration confirming that, to the best of their knowledge, the building complies with building regulations at gateway 3. A safety case report will also need to be submitted. Once satisfied, the new building safety regulator will then issue a building registration certificate, before which occupation will not be permitted. Transitional arrangements will apply to existing in-scope buildings.

An 'accountable person' will have legal responsibility for ensuring that the fire and structural risks in the building are understood, and that appropriate steps and actions to mitigate and manage these risks are taken on an ongoing basis. The accountable person will also be required to appoint a competent building safety manager.

Metcalfe Katherine

Katherine Metcalfe

Legal Director

The government does seem to have addressed criticism that residents were to be given significant powers, without matching responsibilities.

Health and safety law expert Katherine Metcalfe of Pinsent Masons said: "We don't yet know when existing buildings will be brought within scope of the new regime, at gateway 3, although we can expect this to happen in phases, with further detail on timing promised later in the year".

"The roles of the accountable person and building safety manager during occupation are largely unchanged from last year's consultation, which put residents at the heart of the new system. However, the government does seem to have addressed criticism that residents were to be given significant powers, without matching responsibilities. It has now proposed that the general duty for residents to cooperate will be supported by a set of specific duties which will mean that residents have legal responsibilities to avoid actions that could pose a risk to the fire and structural safety of the building, including restrictions on structural alterations to their own flats, damaging fire safety features and obstructing the building safety manager," she said.

The government intends to take forward the new requirements through a Building Safety Bill and further secondary legislation where necessary as soon as possible. The reforms will apply to England only, with the exception of those relating to construction products and the competence of architects which will apply across the UK.