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Welsh government outlines new Building Safety Regime plans

The Welsh government has published plans for a Building Safety Regime which would apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings in the country.

The Welsh proposals are outlined in a consultation document (123 page / 1.8MB PDF) released in early January 2021. They build on the principles found in the English building safety reform agenda, but broaden the scope to apply to any building containing two or more dwellings. This compares to the English draft Building Safety Bill, which will only apply to buildings of six storeys or over 18 metres in height.

Under the Welsh plans, buildings over 18 metres in height, classified as category 1, will be subject to more stringent controls across their lifecycle, while the requirements for lower-rise buildings in category 2 focus mainly on building and occupation.

The consultation paper notes that the landscape in Wales is very different to England, with just 148 buildings of more than 18 metres compared to over 12,000 in England.

Health and safety expert Katherine Metcalfe of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “This announcement from the Welsh government may increase pressure on the English government to expand the scope of the building safety regime more quickly than they perhaps otherwise would have done, and on the Scottish government to develop proposals to enhance the fire safety of residential buildings during occupation.

“It is possible that by implementing a broader building safety reform Wales ends up leading the way for the broadening of the same in England in due course,” Metcalfe said.

The Welsh proposals also include the introduction of a ‘Golden Thread’ record of up-to-date information in digital form about the design, construction and maintenance of category 1 buildings. Category 2 buildings would require the collection of a minimum level of data.

The proposals also introduce a dutyholder role of an ‘Accountable Person’ for all buildings in the scope of the regime, with legal responsibility for the safety of the building used for residential purposes. Meanwhile a building safety manager role will be required for category 1 buildings, with day-to-day responsibility for management of the building to support the accountable person.

Key duties will include annual fire risk assessments, taking steps to maintain adequate compartmentation to contain any fires, mandatory reporting of any incidents posing a significant risk to life or safety, and for category 1 buildings, the maintenance of a ‘safety case’ setting out fire and structural risks identified.

The Welsh consultation is open until 12 April 2021. 

Separately, the UK government announced a £30 million ‘Waking Watch Relief Fund’ which will pay for the installation of fire alarm systems in high-rise buildings with cladding. The intention is to remove or reduce the need for costly interim safety measures such as ‘waking watch’, which have been put in place as an interim measure pending remedial action being taken for unsafe cladding in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017.

Health and safety expert Laura White of Pinsent Masons said: “The remediation of dangerous cladding is still required to take place but buildings in the private sector, with an unsafe cladding system, which are over 18 metres in height and where leaseholders have been paying for a waking watch will be able to apply to the fund.”

White said responsible persons in control of buildings should not delay in applying for the fund through their local fire and rescue service. The fund is available for any systems installed on or after 17 December 2020.

The Welsh consultation and the fund’s launch come amid ongoing issues across the UK related to the use of cladding on residential buildings. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has launched a consultation on proposed guidance on the valuation of multi-storey, multi-occupancy buildings with cladding, aimed at supporting valuers carrying out mortgage valuations to decide whether they need an external wall fire review process (EWS1) form before proceeding.

Meanwhile in Scotland there have been reports that residents are struggling to obtain insurance cover for buildings without a commitment to remove combustible cladding, leading to calls for action by the Scottish government.

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