Government introduces fire safety bill
IN AN announcement, the government 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 both setting out to ‘learn the lessons’ from Grenfell. While the building safety bill would ‘place new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products’, both bills aimed strengthen the ‘whole regulatory system’ for both building and fire safety.
The fire safety bill was said to ‘hint’ at supporting the findings from the Grenfell inquiry’s first phase, including ‘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’.
Main elements were to include 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’.
Grenfell inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick had recommended that timescale in the first phase report, to ‘ensure that all fire doors are fitted with effective self-closing devices in working order’. Initial concerns had been expressed over the government’s response that doors and closers should be ‘routinely checked or inspected’, leading to speculation ministers were ‘moving away’ from three month checks, but they confirmed the bill would implement ‘all’ inquiry recommendations.
In the official announcement this week, the government stated that the bill was being introduced to ‘improve fire safety in buildings in England and Wales’, and that it ‘builds on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes’. The bill 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, and outlined these.
The recommendations 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’; while a number of supplementary actions being taken to improve building and fire safety at the same time as the bill. These include the new building regulator, the building safety bill, the £1bn funding for cladding removal, and the Fire Kills campaign relaunch.
James Brokenshire, Security Minister, commented: ‘We remain committed to implementing the recommendations made following phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, and the government has already made major reforms to building safety. Today’s bill will help bring about meaningful change to improving building safety.’