Update on Building Safety Reforms

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In a recent letter to fellow MPs, Robert Jenrick (Secretary of State for Housing and Local Communities) provides an update on the Government's building safety reforms. 

The letter references the publication of the Government's response to its June 2019 consultation on proposals to reform the building safety system entitled 'Building a Safer Future'; the ongoing remediation of unsafe cladding; measures to be included in the forthcoming update to Approved Document B guidance made under the building regulations; and actions being undertaken with the mortgage and insurance industry on mortgages for properties in high-rise residential buildings.

Of greatest relevance to planning is the Government's response to the 'Building a Safer Future' consultation which sought views on the government's proposals for a reformed building safety system covering the performance of all buildings as well as the management of fire and structural safety.  The proposed reforms take into account the 53 recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt's Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety Building following the tragedy at Grenfell which concluded that the current system is not fit for purpose and would require a complete overhaul.

The response document sets out the Government's proposals for a reformed building safety system, covering the performance of all buildings as well as the management of fire and structural safety risks in new and existing buildings in its scope. These reforms will apply to England only, with the exception of those relating to construction products and the competence of architects, which will apply across the UK.  The Government will legislate for these reforms in new primary legislation through the Building Safety Bill and further secondary legislation where necessary. The proposals as outlined may therefore be subject to change based on Parliamentary scrutiny and continued engagement with stakeholders.

The Government intends to deliver on its objectives by establishing a new, national Building Safety Regulator (to be established in the Health and Safety Executive but reporting to the Secretary of State for Housing, who will retain overall responsibility for the regulatory system).  The Building Safety Regulator will be responsible for implementing and enforcing a more stringent regulatory regime for buildings, providing stronger oversight of safety and performance, and increasing the competence of those working on building safety.  The scope of the more stringent regulatory regime will apply to all multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height, or more than six storeys (whichever is reached first) from the outset although it is noted that in future this will extend to include other premises, based on emerging risk evidence.

The Building Safety Regulator will be responsible for all major regulatory decisions made at key points during the design, construction, occupation and refurbishment of buildings in its scope, drawing on the expertise and advice of other regulators and relevant experts. These regulatory decisions will include whether to allow a building to be constructed and later occupied and will be linked to Gateway Points during design and construction.

This more stringent regime will place greater responsibility on those responsible for the design, construction, occupation and refurbishment of buildings and will be delivered through the creation of a system of duty-holders, who have clear responsibilities at each stage of the building's lifecycle.  The duty-holders during the design, construction and refurbishment phases of a building will be:

  • the Client
  • the Principal Designer
  • the Principal Contractor
  • Designer(s)
  • Contractor(s)

And all duty-holders during the design and construction phase will be required to:

  • cooperate and share information with the Building Safety Regulator;
  • ensure compliance with building regulations;
  • comply with the specific regulatory requirements imposed upon them; and
  • ensure they and the people they employ are competent to do the work they are undertaking.

Three Gateway Points are identified as key stages in the building lifecycle where the duty-holder must demonstrate that they are managing building safety risks appropriately before they are permitted by the relevant regulator to continue to the next stage of development.  The first gateway point (Gateway one) will be before planning permission is granted when fire safety issues which impact on planning will need to be considered e.g. including emergency fire vehicle access to a building and whether there are adequate water supplies in the event of a fire. To assist LPAs in their decision as to whether to grant planning permission, the developer will be required to submit a Fire Statement setting out fire safety considerations specific to the development with their planning application.

National guidance will be published to help both developers and LPAs and to ensure Fire Statements are comprehensive while remaining proportionate. The Government anticipates that when assessing a planning application, LPAs will consult their local Fire & Rescue Service as necessary and on a statutory basis (and the current statutory deadline for responses to consultations on planning applications will apply to avoid delays to the planning process).

The Hackett Review also raised concerns about new developments proposed in the near vicinity of a building in scope of the regime and the impact these could have on the fire safety provisions of such a building, e.g. in relation to fire emergency vehicle access. As part of the national guidance referenced above, guidance will also be provided for LPAs on how to consider the impact of a new development on the fire safety provisions of a building in scope of the more stringent regime. The Fire Statement will need provide information on the near vicinity area of the development highlighting key considerations for future nearby developments in relation to this.

The second Gateway point (Gateway two) will be before construction begins whilst the third and final gateway point (Gateway three) is before occupation of the building and for both of these stages the Building Safety Regulator will provide the building control function working with local regulators.

Where a development benefits from a permitted development right, it will proceed straight to Gateway two for assessment by the Building Safety Regulator before any construction work can commence. In addition, where there is a permitted development right which requires prior approval from the LPA, the developer, at the time of submitting the prior approval application will also be required to notify the Building Safety Regulator of the proposal to change a building and bring it in scope of the new regime. 

Finally it is worth noting that more immediately MHCLG propose to publish an update to Approved Document B next month that will include increased fire safety measures in high-rise residential buildings, including the provision of sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage in all new high-rise blocks of flats over 11 metres tall.