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Building a safer future: new Government building safety measures announced

The Government has announced “the biggest change in building safety for a generation” in its response to the Building a Safer Future consultation, published on 2 April 2020.

The stated purpose of the measures are to reform the building safety system with the biggest changes in a generation to ensure residents are safe in their homes. This is particularly important during this difficult time as far more people are spending far more time at home and their safety is paramount.

What has been announced?

The new measures include:

  • The installation of mandatory sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage in all new high rise blocks of flats over 11m tall. It remains to be seen what the requirements will be for existing high rise blocks.
  • Providing £1 billion in 2020/21 to support the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding materials on high-rise buildings. This is in addition to the £600 million already available for the remediation of high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding.
  • Naming building owners who have been slow to act in removing unsafe ACM cladding, and prosecuting them if they continually fail to comply.
  • Establishing a new, national Building Safety Regulator responsible for overseeing the safety and performance of all buildings.
  • Giving residents of buildings new rights to information about the safety of their buildings, to be involved in decisions about safety and to complain where they have concerns.
  • The introduction of the Fire Safety Bill, which aims to deliver the recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry’s Phase One report.

The Fire Safety Bill

The Bill amends the Fire Safety Order 2005 to clarify that the responsible person or duty holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire for the external structure, entrance doors and common parts. It is hoped that this clarification will empower fire and rescue services to take enforcement action and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant.

The Bill will provide a foundation for secondary legislation to take forward recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report, which stated that building owners and managers of high-rise and multi-occupied residential buildings should be responsible for a number of areas including:

  • regular inspections of lifts and the reporting of results to the local fire and rescue services;
  • ensuring evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated and personal evacuation plans are in place for residents whose ability to evacuate may be compromised;
  • ensuring fire safety instructions are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand; and
  • ensuring individual flat entrance doors, where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding, comply with current standards.

How effective will these measures be?

Despite attention being focused on managing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government says it is committed to maintaining public safety by implementing these measures. Undoubtedly, they should ensure a safer environment in new high rise buildings.

However, concerns do remain in relation to existing buildings. The Government’s speed of response to the removal of unsafe cladding has been subject to criticism. There are also funding issues in relation to existing tall buildings, although the Government’s now intends to hold a roundtable with mortgage lenders to work on an agreed approach to mortgage valuations for properties that are under 18 metres tall.

COVID-19 and beyond

Despite the huge pressures on the building industry during COVID-19, the Government has highlighted that the work to remove the unsafe cladding remains one of their top priorities to ensure the safety of residents in their homes. The Government says it is supporting building owners, managers and residents to ensure remediation work continues where it is safe to do so. The Government has also made clear that vital maintenance and repair work can continue to take place in line with public health guidance.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at April 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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