On the 5th July 2021 the government published its Building Safety Bill which will “overhaul regulations, creating lasting generational change, setting out a clear pathway on how residential buildings should be constructed, maintained and made safe” – in the words of the Ministry of Housing’s website.
The bill sets out a framework to improve compliance. There will be tougher penalties for those who break the rules and a requirement for developers to belong to a ‘New Homes Ombudsman’ scheme. This focus on compliance also includes the establishment of a new Building Safety Regulator to oversee the new measures. There is a particular remit to manage and resolve any safety risks arising in new and existing high-rise residential buildings of 18 metres and above. This new regulator will also be able to remove unsafe products from the market via the operations of the Office for Products and Safety Standards (OPSS).
What is the Golden Thread?
One of the key features of the regulations is the so-called ‘golden thread’ of information, which is a digital document updated throughout the life of each building. This ‘golden thread’ is designed to ensure that owners have the requisite certainty in their obligations, whilst also allowing the regulator to intercede on a case if required.
Statute of limitation
In addition to the above, the government has also increased the period in which residents can seek compensation for inadequate construction work from six to fifteen years, with the changes being applied retrospectively. In theory therefore, residents of a building completed in 2010 would still have until 2025 to raise proceedings against its developers. This legislation also includes a legal requirement for building owners to consider cost-effective and industry-proven remediation options before they pass these costs onto leaseholders.
Fire does not respect arbitrary height limits
James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the ABI, said: “The ABI has long called for the fundamental reform of our building safety regulations and this is a landmark opportunity to deliver safer homes and business premises. Fire does not respect arbitrary height limits and fire risk also needs to consider the use a building is being put to.”
Lord Stephen Greenhalgh, minister for building and fire safety, explained: “By increasing our measures of enforcement, we will make sure industry follows the rules – and is held to account when it doesn’t.”
More to come?
Whilst these reforms are a significant development in improving building safety and maintenance they are also limited to developments with a height of 18 metres or over. Tragically in recent years, we have seen the terrible consequences of insufficient safety mechanisms in relation to these tall buildings and therefore the introduction of comprehensive regulations is a welcome step towards reducing risk across the industry.
However, a number of commentators have noted that other buildings – such as care homes, schools and hospitals – would quite rightly consider themselves as vulnerable to lax safety procedures, regardless of the height of their building. As such, this new legislation may simply be the first shot in the development of post-Grenfell building safety measures, and the industry would be wise to expect further developments as this new bill takes effect.