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Building safety: a new era of accountability

The recently published draft Building Safety Bill contains significant changes intended to improve the standard of buildings and secure the safety of people living in them. Announcing the publication of the draft Bill, the government stated it will “deliver the biggest changes to building safety for nearly 40 years” giving residents a stronger voice and making them safer in their homes.

The draft Bill provides a new framework for the regulation of building safety in the UK with the key aim of improving building and fire safety, including fundamental changes for high-rise residential buildings. The 334-page draft Bill is set out in five parts with eight schedules and makes changes to existing legislation including the Building Act 1984. This is a large and complex piece of legislation and its publication in draft enables pre-legislative scrutiny before it is introduced to Parliament.

Accountability

The government describes the draft Bill as introducing a “new era of accountability” making it clear which party is responsible for managing safety risks throughout the various stages of the design, construction and occupation of the buildings which fall within the scope of the legislation.

The draft Bill provides for tough sanction for parties who fail to meet these obligations. To enable better regulation and improve competence levels in the building control sector, the draft Bill also provides for the registration of building inspectors and building control approvers. In addition, the draft Bill allows the Architects Registration Board to monitor the competence of architects on their register.

Building Safety Regulator

Part 2 of the Bill contains provisions relating to a new Building Safety Regulator (BSR) within the Health and Safety Executive. The objective of the BSR is to secure the safety of people in or in the immediate vicinity of buildings and improve the standard of buildings. The BSR will have several responsibilities in relation to buildings in England including:

  • Implementing and enforcing the more stringent regime for higher risk buildings
  • Overseeing the safety and performance of all buildings on an ongoing basis
  • Improving the competence of those working on building safety
  • Ensuring compliance with the measures outlined in the draft Bill

Stringent new regulatory regime

Part 3 of the draft Bill deals with amendments to the Building Act 1984 as it applies to England. It sets out the provisions for new regulations that will apply during the design and construction of higher-risk buildings. The draft Bill introduces a new duty holder regime to be incorporated across the lifecycle of higher-risk buildings. When higher-risk buildings are occupied, Part 4 of the draft Bill provides that duties will be placed on an ‘Accountable Person’ to manage fire and structural risks on an ongoing basis and ensure the building can be safely occupied. This will be managed on a day-day basis by a Building Safety Manager. Much of the detail of this new duty holder regime will be taken forward through secondary legislation.

Clause 19 provides that the definition of ‘higher-risk buildings’ will be set out in regulations. The explanatory notes to the draft Bill state the current proposal is that ‘higher-risk buildings’ would cover multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height, or more than six storeys (whichever is reached first).

A new ‘Gateway’ regime to ensure building safety risks are considered at each stage of a building’s design and construction will also be introduced. The ‘Gateways’ are key sign-off points: before planning permission is granted; before construction begins; and at the current completion/final certificate phase. The draft Bill also provides for Mandatory Occurrence Reporting which will involve the obligatory reporting of structural and fire safety occurrences which could cause significant risk to life safety.

New Homes Ombudsman

Part 5 of the draft Bill contains provisions to establish a new homes ombudsman scheme to enable owners of new build homes to escalate complaints. Developers of new build homes will be required to belong to the new homes ombudsman and the ombudsman will have powers to hold developers to account.

Construction Products

The draft Bill provides powers so that all construction products marketed in the UK fall under a regulatory regime. This will allow them to be withdrawn from the market if they present a risk.

Next steps

The Bill is at a very early stage and much of the detail of the provisions is likely to appear in secondary legislation that has yet to be published. The draft Bill is due to be examined by a Parliamentary committee and following the committee’s feedback and recommendations, the draft Bill will be finalised and progress through Parliament to become an Act.

Big changes to building safety

The measures contained in the Bill are significant and the progress of the draft Bill should be closely followed so that the industry can properly prepare for the changes. Many of the changes apply to high-rise residential buildings, however, the draft Bill contains powers to potentially extend the scope to other buildings in the future and it is anticipated that this will be the subject of debate in the coming months.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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