Earlier this week the
Government announced a package of proposals designed to ensure building owners
address fire safety risks.  Part of what
has been dubbed “the biggest change in
building safety for a generation”
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP hopes
the changes will ensure that, “everyone
is safe, and feels safe, in their own home.”

So what has the Government announced this week?

A
new Building Safety Regulator

Grabbing the headlines is the immediate
establishment of a new Building Safety Regulator (BSR) within the HSE to raise building safety and performance
standards and to have oversight of a stringent new regime for higher-risk
buildings.

The BSR will be established initially in shadow
form ahead of its formal creation on a statutory basis. Dame Judith Hackitt,
former Chair of the HSE and author of ‘Building a Safer Future,’ the
independent review into building regulations and fire safety commissioned
following Grenfell, will chair a board overseeing transition to the new regime.

Previous plans for the BSR incorporated
representatives of the Fire Service and Local Authorities in a joint competent
authority arrangement.  However, the
Government has, instead, chosen the HSE to run the BSR exclusively. 

Details as to the nature, scope and powers of the BSR
are yet to be confirmed, as is the basis and source of its funding.

Consolidated building
safety guidance

The Government also issued simplified consolidated guidance to building
owners on the actions they should take to ensure their buildings are safe (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/building-safety-advice-for-building-owners-including-fire-doors). 

Covering a range of topics from smoke control to fire doors, the
document requires immediate action from owners of buildings of any height to
assess and manage the risk of external fire spread.  It also reflects the view that cladding
material comprised of ACM with an unmodified polythene core should not be used
on buildings of any height and should be removed. 

To speed up remediation efforts in the private sector, the Government
will appoint a construction expert to identify ways to speed up the pace of ACM
removal. As an added incentive, Mr Jenrick has announced that from February
2020 he will name and shame those responsible for
buildings where remediation works have not started.

What next?

With the second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry starting next week, we can
expect further announcements in the coming months, including:-

  • Sprinklers: the
    Government’s consultation closed in November and Mr Jenrick has already
    indicated a will to lower the height threshold for sprinkler requirements from
    18 to 11 metres.  More detail is to
    follow in February.
  • Combustible
    cladding:
    already banned for high rise buildings (those over 18m), a consultation
    will be launched that could see a height reduction to 11m.  
  • Fire Safety
    Bill:
    designed to clarifying the scope of the current Regulatory Reform (Fire
    Safety) Order 2005, the Bill will require residential building owners to fully
    consider and mitigate the risks of any external wall systems and front doors to
    individual flats.  The changes also aim
    to make enforcement against building owners easier.

Viewpoint

There has been widespread frustration and concern at the slow pace of
change post-Grenfell and this injection of renewed momentum is welcome. However,
the lack of detail in this week’s announcement makes it tough to determine how
effective this package of measures might be. 

And whilst there is widespread support for the HSE’s newly expanded
role, the BSR must be properly resourced if it is to make the impact
sought.  Mike Robinson, Chief Executive
of the British Safety Council agrees; “between
2010 and 2017 the HSE had a real terms cut of over 50%, losing nearly a third
of their staff…the Secretary of State has promised that the [BSR] will get the
funds it needs.  I’d like to see that
funding ring-fenced so that it doesn’t disappear to plug the existing funding
gap at HSE”
.

It seems clear that we can expect a change of
approach when it comes to the assessment and prioritisation of building risks,
which Robert Jenrick says have relied on, “crude
height limits with binary consequences [which] does not reflect the complexity
of the challenge at hand.”
 Whilst
height will remain a significant factor, going forwards it seems it will be
just one of a number of risk factors to be considered.

Further updates will follow as additional measures are announced.  In the meantime, if you have any queries
regarding these developments, please contact Rhian Greaves (rhian.greaves@pannonecorporate.com)
or Bill Dunkerley (bill.dunkerley@pannonecorporate.com).

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