RICS calls fire safety bill a ‘welcome move’

RICS calls fire safety bill a ‘welcome move’

THE ROYAL Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said that the new bill would provide ‘further clarity’ to both leaseholders and building owners on fire safety.

In the government’s announcement, it stated that the new bill would build ‘on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes, and a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire never happens again’. In December last year, the new government’s Queen’s Speech saw building safety and fire safety bills introduced, with the fire safety bill supporting findings from the Grenfell inquiry’s first phase.

These include ‘main benefits’ such as providing residents with ‘reassurance’ on fire safety and making it clear that building owners and managers know they are ‘responsible for assessing the risks of external walls and fire doors’. A clarification that the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO] ‘includes the external walls of the building, including cladding’ as well as ‘fire doors for domestic premises of multiple occupancy’.

‘Relevant enforcement powers’ to hold owners and managers ‘to account’ would be strengthened, while a ‘transitional periods’ for these roles, the responsible person and the fire and rescue services (FRSs) would ‘assist’ in placing infrastructure. In January this year, more details were released including the requirement for building owners to ‘fully consider and mitigate’ the risks of external wall systems and individual flat doors, as these changes would ‘make it easier to enforce’ where owners have not remediated combustible cladding ‘by complementing the powers under the Housing Act’.

The government is also set to work alongside local authorities and support ‘enforcement options’ where ‘there is no clear plan for remediation’, as building owners are ‘responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe’. Most recently in February, it was revealed that the government would include a requirement in the bill for fire doors in all flat blocks to be checked every three months, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) asking building owners if quarterly inspections were ‘feasible’.

The bill was introduced to ‘improve fire safety in buildings in England and Wales’, and ‘builds on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes’. It will amend the FSO to ‘clarify’ that the responsible person or dutyholder for multi occupant residential buildings ‘must manage and reduce’ the risk of a series of elements.

These include the structure and external walls of a building, including cladding, balconies and windows, and entrance doors to individual flats ‘that open into common parts’, with this clarification to ‘empower’ FRSs to take action ‘and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant’. It will also provide a ‘foundation’ for secondary legislation to ‘take forward’ the inquiry’s recommendations.

These cover responsibilities of building owners and managers of high rise and multi occupant residential buildings, including ‘regular’ lift inspections and reporting results to FRSs; and ensuring evacuation plans ‘are reviewed and regularly updated’, as well as personal evacuation plans being in place for residents ‘whose ability to evacuate may be compromised’.

Others include ensuring that fire safety instructions ‘are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand’, and ensuring that individual flat entrance doors ‘where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding’ comply with current standards. The bill will also give Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick the power to amend lists of qualifying premises that fall within the scope of the FSO ‘by way of secondary legislation’.

The government noted that this would enable it to ‘respond quickly to developments in the design and construction of buildings’. RICS’ response came from its global building standards director Gary Strong, who commented: ‘The Government’s publication of this new Fire Safety Bill is a welcome move that will give further clarity to leaseholders and building owners – but we hope the details of this important legislation aren’t lost amongst the growing Covoid19 health crisis.

‘RICS have said for some time the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 needed clarifying, and building owners and their agents will now have the information needed – specifically in relation to external walls, balconies and front doors which open onto internal common areas – to better safeguard the people living in their buildings.

‘A few months ago RICS stepped in to provide additional information in fire safety for the public - publishing a free guide on fire safety which sets out the requirements on building owners, but we’re pleased the Fire Safety Bill clarifies what is needed even further.’