Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
September 3, 2021

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Building Safety Bill

Fire industry responds to the Building Safety Bill

The Building Safety Bill was recently put forward to parliament, after a long period of consultation. Said to be bringing the biggest improvements to building safety in a generation – and with many of the changes related to the fallout of Grenfell and its subsequent inquiries to ensure fire safety risks are better managed – we round-up some of the responses from associations, industry bodies and other figures in the sector.

While many have welcomed some of the new proposals, such as the introduction of a Building Safety Regulator to oversee the management of safety in buildings deemed ‘high risk’ and improve accountability, several concerns have also been raised, including the length of time it may take for secondary legislation to come through and the impact on leaseholders who don’t fall in scope of the plans. 


Keep up to date with the latest on the Building Safety Bill.


The Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP)

The ASFP has welcomes the publication of the new Building Safety Bill but says it remains concerned about the length of time it may take to pass through Parliament, the continued lack of funding and support for leaseholders and the delay to defining product safety criteria, with much of the detailed regulation expected to be contained within secondary legislation.

The association noted the importance of the Building Safety Regulator, who will be tasked with holding those who do not properly manage safety risks to account and improving safety standards with new powers. It also welcomes the awareness that the definition for what is currently deemed as ‘high risk’ – buildings at least 18m in height or seven (or more) storeys – can be changed dependent on research and advice from the Regulator.

The Bill’s requirement for landlords to take reasonable steps to ascertain whether any funding is available for the cost of cladding remediation and if so, they must make a claim and reduce service charges accordingly has also been welcomed.

However, the ASFP does not believe support for leaseholders goes far enough, with funding often not covering additional fire safety issues such as fire doors and compartmentation measures. It is also concerned that secondary legislation to define safety critical products will cause more of a delay and highlights the lack of regulation regarding installers of such products – calling for a mandatory third-party certification scheme.

ASFP Technical and Regulatory Affairs Officer Niall Rowan stated: “While the Bill introduces a range of welcome measures which should eventually lead to significant improvements in building safety, we have yet to see the detail and key definitions which will be introduced in the secondary legislation. We are concerned that scope of buildings to which the legislation will apply remains too narrow and at the lack of available funding to rectify fire safety system failings in existing buildings.

“Furthermore, while we expect the products and systems manufactured and installed by ASFP members to be defined as ‘Safety Critical’, we have a number of concerns with regards to the application of the legislation to the installation, testing and market surveillance of these products.”

British Safety Council

The British Safety Council has welcomed the move towards an explicitly risk-based building safety regime that ensures fire safety considerations are prioritised at every stage in the development of high-rise buildings. It urges the Government to introduce the remaining changes to building safety regulation without delay, to make certain those legally responsible for buildings ensure fire and structural safety risks are effectively managed and appropriately funded.

Mike Robinson, Chief Executive at the British Safety Council, said: “It is high-time the Government improved the standards of safety for people’s homes through a regulatory system that provides essential oversight, from a building’s initial design through to construction and operation. This should, if properly regulated, monitored and resourced, make homes safer in the future, and equally important make residents feel safe in their homes.”

“The Government’s decision, in the wake of new advice, to no longer require EWS1 forms for buildings below 18 metres should be kept under regular review to ensure any changes in risk are properly accounted for and managed accordingly.”

“The elephant in the room continues to be who pays for the removal of unsafe cladding from buildings below 18 metres – currently leaseholders are expected to pay £50 a month towards this work. This is a grave injustice. It is only right that the Government pays the full cost of remediation up front for what is a historical defect. To not do so, is simply wrong.”

Fire Protection Association (FPA)

JonathanONeill-FPA-20

Jonathan O Neill, FPA

Jonathan O’Neill OBE, Managing Director of the FPA responds to the publication of the Building Safety Bill and says that the continued focus on height, lack of rigour on competence and a failure to grip the problem of fire safety defects in all buildings shows the Government is simply not listening.

“We have consistently called for the Government to focus on risk, not height when considering a new legislative regime for building safety. This Bill confirms the Government’s intention to focus on ‘higher-risk buildings’ and that means those at least 18 metres in height or seven stories that contain at least two residential units.

“We are sympathetic to the Government’s argument that they must focus where the risk is highest, but as a result, vast swathes of buildings below this height are ignored and their risks unquantified.

“We have consistently argued that it is fundamentally wrong to expect thousands of individual leaseholders to instigate legal action against developers, builders and product manufacturers who gamed a system that was so fundamentally flawed; that in our view is the Government’s job. The system was of successive governments’ own making and the system has failed them; a Building Safety Bill that fails to readdress these matters is simply not good enough.

“Is it the Government’s intention to get this Bill through Parliament and then bring in a second Bill that deals with those below the higher-risk threshold? We think not… and while the spotlight remains on tall buildings, we ignore the fire safety risks that remain elsewhere at our peril.

“We welcome the introduction of the Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive, although we have grave concerns about the capacity of the specialists from all corners of the fire safety world to be able to service all of the requirements that might come from the direction power that is contained in the Bill.

“We are disappointed that the Government does not accept the recommendation to make provisions for establishing a national system of third-party accreditation and registration for all professionals working on the design and construction of higher-risk buildings… Having a Committee on Competence sitting as part of the Building Safety Regulator brings some comfort, but it still leaves those specifying the work to understand the vagaries of guidance and specialist accreditation.

“It is good to see a transition plan published, but it does bring into stark relief the fact that the work to implement all this change will not be complete until at least the early part of 2024, seven years after the Grenfell Tower fire.

“It has taken four years to get this Bill in front of Parliament, but the timescale is too long and the emphasis is not right.”

Fire Sector Federation

Michael Harper, Chairman: “After calling for action over so long a period this is a most welcome moment.”

“We all realise changing the country’s fire and building control systems is a complex and demanding task. Throughout a building’s life, from the drawing board until its demolished, there has to be a system of control that ensures safety does match the different phases of construction, occupation, and use. Intrinsic within the construction sector is innovation affecting all of these multiple life phases and throughout occupation a building’s use and its users change so a new regime has to be adaptable and well founded on life safety principles.”

“As we enter the Bill’s examination and the Home Office consultation stages our Federation will be seeking to ensure a principled fire safety foundation is firmly established.”

Zeroignition

Ian King, Chief Operating Officer, Zeroignition, commented: “This legislation is an essential step in making homes safer for all. The building industry has been working hard behind the scenes to tighten up processes and the forthcoming regulation has acted as a powerful driver for innovation. The addition of meaningful sanctions will act as a powerful deterrent to those few companies who haven’t prioritised safety.

“However, it is obvious that there’s still ample clarification needed for leaseholders who continue to be faced with huge bills, and in some cases financially crippling sums of money, to rectify the safety of their building. For the sake of everyone I hope that this process is sped up. It’s over four years since the Grenfell Tragedy and three years since the Hackitt Review, which starkly highlighted the systemic flaws, was published. The industry needs to understand the regulatory regime so we can make appropriate decisions.

“Let’s hope that the Government allocates a proportion of the intended investment to support third party product testing facilities, right now the existing labs are facing significant backlogs and this is seriously hampering change and bringing new safer products to market.”

End our Cladding Scandal (Campaign group)

The End our Cladding Scandal (EOCS) group response: “The Building Safety Bill offers the unique chance for the Government to finally take control of the building safety crisis and, once and for all, to help leaseholders who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves physically, financially and mentally trapped. Unfortunately, the Government still seems scared of getting a grip on this nightmare that has blighted our lives for years.

“There have been many leaked headlines pushing the Bill’s top lines – that it will introduce a new era of accountability, that there will be tougher sanctions for those who fail to meet their obligations and that there will be protections for leaseholders in the future. These we – very cautiously – welcome and we, along with every affected leaseholder, will be carefully scrutinising the Bill over the coming few days. But with all the talk of future accountability, what must not be forgotten are the leaseholders of today, the innocent people facing financial ruin and mental anguish over being forced to live in unsafe homes. How will this Bill truly help the hundreds of thousands like them?

“One of the most headline-grabbing initiatives has been that leaseholders will get extra time to take legal action against developers over safety defects. If only it were that simple. The truth – as the Government well knows – is that this is a David and Goliath battle. It pits leaseholders, already struggling with waking watch bills, exorbitant insurance hikes and enormous remediation costs, against well-funded, powerful and often aggressive developers who know the system is stacked in their favour. Many will simply argue that they cannot be sued because the Government retrospectively changed legislation, then walked away from the mess it created. Even where there are clear breaches of building regulations, leaseholders, already exhausted, will face years of demoralising and costly legal fights with little certainty of success.

“In line with this Government’s general approach to the building safety crisis, the focus seems to be on managing the news cycle and allaying the concerns of the growing number of Conservative backbench MPs who recognise that homeowners are not being treated fairly. Ministers and two Prime Ministers have promised more than 17 times in Parliament that they would protect leaseholders from costs. During the recent Fire Safety Bill ping-pong, the repeated response was that the Building Safety Bill is the place where the “who pays” argument should be focused. Now, it seems they have cynically devised a means of divesting themselves of that responsibility.”

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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