The Building Safety Bill - the biggest change to building safety requirements in 40 years

The Building Safety Bill was finally put to Parliament on 5 July 2021 for a first reading. It aims to implement Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations made in her damning review of the failures relating to building safety (and in particular fire safety), following the Grenfell tragedy. The Government has said that the Bill will “deliver the biggest improvements to building safety in nearly 40 years” and should come into force mid-next year.

However, there are certain elements that are already changing the environment in which buildings are developed – from planning through to completion stage.

It has the potential to impact every business – whether you work with residents and homeowners; your business owns buildings; you work in the construction industry; or you are an insurer.

Key outcomes of the Bill will include:

  1. The creation of a Building Safety Regulator (“BSR”), who will have three main functions:
    • overseeing the safety and performance of all buildings;
    • facilitating improvement in the competence of built environment industry and building control professionals; and
    • leading implementation of the new regulatory framework for high-rise buildings.

The BSR will work closely with local authorities and fire and rescue authorities and will have enforcement powers to ensure cases where action is needed do not fall through the net.

  1. An overhaul of the Building Act 1984. New building regulations will be introduced and levels of competence will be set for the building process that prescribe who can undertake certain roles, and the relevant qualifications required.
  2. Specific provisions relating to ‘higher risk buildings’ which include buildings that are at least 18 metres in height or have at least 7 storeys and have at least two residential units. It also applies to care homes and hospitals meeting the same height threshold. Such buildings will require a Building Assessment Certificate from the BSR confirming its safety; and an Accountable Person and qualified Building Safety Manager to be appointed to manage ongoing risk.

Residents will have enhanced rights to seek information/make complaints in relation to higher risk buildings and will also have statutory duties to ensure the safety of all occupants in the building. Significantly, there will be an enforcement regime for the occupation of higher risk buildings, including fines for those residents who fail their duties and imprisonment for an Accountable Person who fails to properly police residents.

  1. Establishing a New Home Ombudsmen (“NHO”) to achieve the Government’s aim to “champion homebuyers, protect their interests and hold developers to account.” Where buying from a developer, owners of new build homes will be able to escalate complaints against members of the NHO scheme and have them investigated and determined by an independent individual.
  2. Reform to the regulation of architects (including discipline and competency requirements), construction products and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (expanding the scope to which it applies, to notably include cladding and external parts of the building).
  3. The Limitation Act will be amended to extend the period in which a claim can be brought under Section 1 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 or section 38 of the Building Safety Act 1984 from 6 years to 15 years. Furthermore, for claims relating to the Defective Premises Act, this extended liability period will have retrospective effect, meaning that where a dwelling has been completed for more than 6 years but less than 15 years at the time the Bill becomes law, a claimant will gain the right to sue in respect of breaches of the Act.
  4. The introduction of three gateways during the planning and construction process, when building safety issues are to be addressed. Gateway One came into force on 1 August and was introduced via an amendment to existing planning legislation whilst the Building Safety Bill awaits royal assent. Planning applications for high-rise residential developments must include a fire statement, demonstrating that they have been designed with fire safety in mind.

The Building Safety Bill is long awaited and will have major impact across industries who build, refurbish, manage or insure buildings. Clearly the driver is to improve safety for all, and that cannot be bad.

For more information on the article above please contact Ruth Gibson.

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