Genefell showed up the major failings in building fire safety in the UK and has prompted the need for consultations and new legislation initially in the form of a Building Safety Bill due to introduce new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety in England and construction products throughout the UK.

The housing secretary Robert Jenrick has described the planned reforms contained in the Bill as “the biggest change to our building safety regime for 40 years”. Landlords in particular will need to quickly adapt to the changes to ensure they are compliant.

The provisions contained in this draft Building Safety Bill will provide a complete regulatory overhaul of buildings fire safety and will bring in a new era in the way buildings are constructed and the products used to build them.

The new building safety regime will be overseen by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and will apply initially to all new multi-occupied residential buildings over 18 metres high, or six storeys, in height in England. All existing buildings will be brought within the parameters of the new legislation on a phased basis.

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Cultural change

This is going to be a big cultural change for the property industry, construction and buildings maintenance, and will involve significant new duties for the buildings involved throughout their life cycle.

There is to be a mandated use of accurate digital models to maintain what is referred to as the “golden thread” of building safety information. For those involved in construction, building management and maintenance, their duties will be overseen and enforced by the regulator, and with serious consequences for non-compliance.

The HSE will be given new responsibilities for the safety and performance of every building, regardless of its height. HSE will oversee local authority building control and approved private building inspectors, it will advise on changes to the building regulations, and is tasked with improving the competence of all those personnel involved in the building industry, including building inspectors.

New terms are to be implied into long leases in England and Wales to govern the recovery of building safety costs from residents, and a New Homes Ombudsman for England will be established. New regulations will govern the safety of construction products and the competence of architects across England, Wales and Scotland.

Other buildings in England will have their fire safety regulations reviewed starting with a consultation process which aims to strengthen compliance and the enforcement powers to improve communication between building control bodies and fire and rescue services for all new developments.

Three stage approval

Those carrying out major refurbishments of residential high-rise buildings will be required to seek approval from HSE at three stages: planning permission; pre-construction; and prior to occupation.

For occupied high rise buildings an “accountable person” will need to be appointed to ensure that fire and safety regulations are adhered to and that residents have an input in this process. The accountable person will appoint a building safety manager to monitor the building safely on a day to day basis. HSE will oversee this process.

Buildings that come within the scope of the regulations will have to be registered before HSE will issue a “building assurance certificate” allowing occupation of the building, to be reviewed every five years. Failure to comply will be a criminal offence.

Duty holders will also be responsible for keeping vital safety information about how the building was designed and built and is managed up to date. This so-called ‘golden thread’ of information will be stored electronically for the entire life of the building. The government is likely to require that this digital record complies with building information modelling (BIM) standards.

Fire safety reform in buildings

The government has now published a consultation document seeking views on proposals to:

  • Improve fire risk assessments
  • record the identity of the responsible person for all buildings;
  • introduce competence requirements for fire risk assessors;
  • strengthen the rights of residents to access building safety information;
  • increase penalties for non-compliance;
  • enable all fire and rescue services to charge fees for enforcement activity, in a similar way to HSE ‘fees for intervention’;
  • implement the recommendations from Phase 1 of the Grenfell Inquiry; and
  • enhance consultation between building control bodies and fire and rescue services.

The consultation will close on 12 October 2020.

Draft Building Safety Bill

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