Government announces new fire and building safety measures

Government announces new fire and building safety measures

HOUSING SECRETARY Robert Jenrick announced ‘the biggest change in building safety for generation’, including a new regulator, changes to height limits and new consultations.

The government announced that the new measures would ‘go faster and further to improve building safety’, with the previously announced new building safety regulator to be sited within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and ‘established immediately’. In turn, ‘clarified and consolidated’ advice for building owners has been released, while proposals and a consultation have been launched to extend the combustible materials ban and lower mandatory sprinkler limits.

Mr Jenrick stated that the ‘slow pace of improving building safety standards will not be tolerated’, and added that the new regulator will ‘give effective oversight of the design, construction and occupation’ of high risk buildings, as part of the HSE, which will ‘quickly begin to establish’ the regulator ‘in shadow form immediately’, prior to full establishment with legislation.

The regulator will ‘raise building safety and performance standards’ and oversee a ‘new, more stringent regime’ for higher risk buildings, and Dame Judith Hackitt will chair a board to ‘oversee the transition’. The HSE was chosen for its ‘strong track record of working with industry and other regulators to improve safety’, and would ‘draw on experience and the capabilities of other regulators to implement the new regime’.

On high rise residential buildings, the government noted that fires including the Bolton fire last year ‘highlighted that many building owners have still not taken sufficient measures to ensure the safety of residents in buildings at all heights’, with the expert advisory panel having ‘clarified and updated’ advice for building owners on actions to take ‘to ensure their buildings are safe’, specifically focusing on external cladding.

The ‘consolidated’ advice simplifies language and condenses previous advice into one place, and ‘vitally’ makes clear building owners ‘need to do more to address safety issues’ on residential buildings under 18m. This advice also reflects the panel’s view that aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding with an ‘unmodified polyethylene core’ should ‘not be on residential buildings of any height and should be removed’, with a call for evidence published on risks within existing buildings.

With cladding remediation, the government is appointing a construction expert to review timescales and ‘identify what can be done to improve pace in the private sector’, and it is ‘considering different options’ to support the process, including mitigating costs for individuals or provide alternative financing routes. A consultation has also been launched  - open until 17 February – into fire safety risks and the combustible ban, including proposals to lower the 18m threshold to ‘at least’ 11m.

There was also an announcement on sprinklers, for which a consultation last year saw the government propose lowering the height threshold for new buildings, with ‘detailed proposals’ to come on how a technical review of fire guidance will be delivered next month. On fire doors, the advice ‘makes clear’ further actions to be taken by building owners, and the government welcomed the Association of Composite Door Manufacturers’ commitment to ‘work with building owners to remediate their doors which failed tests’, the situation to be monitored ‘closely to ensure that this commitment is followed through’.

More details on the upcoming Fire Safety Bill were released, with its aim to ‘clarify’ the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and require building owners to ‘fully consider and mitigate’ risks of external wall systems and individual flat front doors. Such changes will ‘make it easier to enforce’ where owners have not remediated ACM ‘by complementing the powers under the Housing Act’.

Finally, the government will 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’. Mr Jenrick ‘made clear’ that from February onwards the government will ‘start to name building owners where remediation has not started’ to remove ACM cladding.

Martin Temple, HSE chair, stated: ‘We are proud the government has asked HSE to establish the new Building Safety Regulator. HSE’s vast experience of working in partnership with industry and others to improve lives will ensure people are confident the creation of the new regulator is in good hands.’

Mr Jenrick added: ‘The government is committed to bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation. Progress on improving building safety needs to move significantly faster to ensure people are safe in their homes and building owners are held to account. That’s why today I’m announcing a major package of reforms, including establishing the Building Safety Regulator within the [HSE] to oversee the new regime and publishing consolidated guidance for building owners.

‘Unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks, I will publicly name building owners where action to remediate unsafe ACM cladding has not started. There can be no more excuses for delay, I’m demanding immediate action.’