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Building Safety: Implementation Plan

Volume 651: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2018

The Grenfell Tower fire represents the greatest loss of life in a residential fire in a century. The Government have taken considerable action since the fire to make sure people are safe and feel safe in their homes. We have identified unsafe buildings and ensured there are appropriate interim measures in place. We have sought expert advice and made this widely available to building owners and those involved in refurbishing buildings. We have issued advice to building owners on known risks and on how to remediate buildings and incentivised remediation by providing funding to social sector landlords. Where necessary, the Government have intervened into markets for products and taken action to have unsafe products removed from the marketplace. As well as dealing with current issues, we have commissioned a review of the whole regulatory system, received two reports and taken forward the recommendations of the interim report of the independent review of building regulations and fire safety (the review).

However, there remains much to do. The review identified failings in the regulatory system and made recommendations to address them. We have heard from over 200 people in response to the review and have analysed those responses. We have also learnt from the remediation process and from other issues that have been investigated over the last 18 months to formulate our response.

In addressing the challenges laid down by the review, the Government want to make sure the identified failings are addressed:

We will create a stronger and more effective regulatory and accountability framework for buildings in scope, which will have at its core clear responsibility and accountability for keeping people safe. We will prevent people from flouting the system through tougher oversight and a stronger and more effective sanctions and enforcement regime.

We will facilitate better understanding of what is required to ensure buildings are safe through clearer standards and guidance, as well as improving the rigour of the product labelling, testing and marketing processes to ensure people working on buildings use safe products.

We will ensure we put residents at the heart of a new regulatory framework through better engagement between them and those managing their buildings, as well as providing more effective routes for escalation and redress when things go wrong. We will ensure building owners reassure residents by providing them with better information about the protection measures in place in their buildings.

Working with industry, we will drive changes to its culture to encourage greater responsibility for building safety, by improving the competence of those undertaking building work on high-rise residential buildings to complement the tougher regulatory oversight regime, and encouraging the sharing of good practice.

The implementation plan that I am publishing today commits the Government to a programme of reform over the next few years. While legislation will take time to implement, the Government are already acting. We recognised the strength of feeling on combustible cladding and have laid regulations to give effect to a clear ban on the use of combustible materials on the external walls of new buildings over 18 metres containing flats, as well as new hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools and student accommodation over that height. This also rules out the use of assessments in lieu of tests (also known as desktop studies) for cladding and wall systems of such buildings.

Today, we have also published amended guidance which further restricts the use of assessments in lieu of tests, following consultation earlier this year. This ensures transparency and applies much tighter and more restrictive conditions; requires that any assessments are properly evidenced on the basis of test data; and restricts who can undertake them.

In the summer, we published a clarified version of the building regulations fire safety guidance in “Approved Document B” for consultation, and we received a substantial number of detailed comments on the clarified guidance which the Department is currently analysing. We also committed to undertake a full technical review of “Approved Document B” and today we have launched a call for evidence, which is the first stage, and we will gather expert advice on the full range of fire safety issues within the guidance which need to be reviewed.

A number of landlords and firms have already responded to this call for action by reviewing the state of their buildings, proactively engaging with residents and documenting safety features. The Government have established an early adopters group to take forward some of the review’s recommendations. We welcome the work that industry has done to date and look forward to engaging with those living and working in these areas to design a new system that will provide greater assurance to those living in high-rise residential buildings.

The Government have driven significant progress in remediating buildings in the social sector. At the end of November, remediation had started or completed on 116 of the 160 social sector buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding systems. There are plans and commitments in place to remediate the remaining 44 buildings.

In the private sector, there has been strong progress since the summer in putting remediation plans in place. At the end of November, there were plans and commitments in place to remediate 203 of the 272 privately owned buildings with unsafe ACM cladding systems, including buildings where remediation has started or completed.

This progress is the result of action we have taken to put pressure on building owners and developers to make their buildings permanently safe, including the creation of a remediation taskforce, chaired by Ministers.

We are also taking decisive action to deal with the remaining buildings where owners are not fulfilling their responsibility to remediate unsafe ACM cladding. To give local authorities confidence to take enforcement action on such buildings, we laid an addendum to the housing health and safety rating system operating guidance and are providing a Local Government Association hosted joint inspection team. I have written to local authorities, with buildings where the owner refuses to remediate unsafe ACM cladding, to offer them our full support to take enforcement action. This will include financial support where this is necessary for the local authority to carry out emergency remedial work. Where financial support is provided, local authorities will recover the costs from the building owner.

I have repeatedly made clear that building owners should protect leaseholders from bearing the cost of remediation. There is a growing list of owners and developers who are doing the right thing and agreeing to fund remediation. This includes Barratt Developments, Mace Group, Legal & General, Taylor Wimpey and Peabody. I have urged all other owners and developers to follow their lead. The implementation plan I am publishing today sets out the far-reaching programme of work the Government now intend to take to ensure people who live in residential high-rise buildings are safe and feel safe, now and in the future. That work is broken down into four distinct but co-ordinated areas:

A more effective regulatory and accountability framework: Addressing Dame Judith Hackitt’s finding that the regulatory framework around the construction, maintenance and ongoing use of multi-occupied, high-rise residential buildings was not fit for purpose, the implementation plan outlines how the Government intend to create a stronger and more effective regulatory framework. The framework has, at its core, clear responsibility and accountability for keeping people safe, as well as tougher oversight and stronger, better enforced sanctions to prevent people flouting the system. We will not wait for legislation to start this work—we will be testing and trialling elements of the new system soon and I intend to establish a joint regulators group to develop and pilot new approaches and, in due course, to assist with the transition to a new regulatory framework.

Clearer standards and guidance, and product safety: The review identified problems caused by complex and inconsistent standards and guidance, and highlighted the importance of taking a holistic view of building work. The implementation plan provides an update on our work to support better understanding by those who undertake building work of what is required to ensure that buildings are safe through clearer standards and guidance. The implementation plan also makes clear my intention to consult in the spring on options for a new governance structure for the oversight of building regulations and guidance.

The Government also intend to provide greater oversight to ensure products are safe where they are being marketed as safe to those that provide materials used in construction. The implementation plan sets out my intention to establish, over the next 12 months, a “standards committee” to advise me on new and existing construction product and system standards; bring forward proposals to establish consistent legislative powers which cover construction products; and consider options for national regulatory oversight of construction products to ensure that construction products are manufactured to the standards they should meet.

Putting residents at the heart of the building safety system: a stronger voice for residents is at the heart of the new system, and the implementation plan sets out how Government intend to empower residents through better engagement with those managing their buildings, as well as more effective routes for escalation and redress when things go wrong. We will also provide reassurance for residents through better information about protection measures in place in their buildings. And we are launching a call for evidence on how residents are supported to meet their responsibilities to keep their homes and buildings safe.

In the spring, informed by ongoing research and input from the residents’ reference panel, the Government will consult on requirements for duty holders to proactively provide residents with critical safety information about their building, and put in place a resident engagement strategy. We will also consult on options for a clear and quick escalation route for building safety concerns, including the relationship with a new regulatory framework for building safety and the interactions with existing regulators and redress schemes.

Driving culture change and a more responsible industry: The implementation plan sets out measures to work with industry to drive culture change to increase responsibility for building safety, including by improving competence of those undertaking building work. an industry safety steering group, chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt, has been established to challenge and push the sector to drive forward culture change.

The Government will take action to support industry as it leads the way, championing the efforts of those who are doing the right thing and challenging those who have further to go. The implementation plan includes our commitment to review industry proposals and take a view on whether they deliver a coherent approach to assessing and providing assurance on competence across the construction sector. We will also continue to consider whether legislation is necessary to give effect to a new system of assuring competence.

In addition to this, my Department will continue to build on the achievements of a group of early adopters in industry, which I announced in July. Early adopters working with the Government will commit to signing a new building safety charter on culture change and trial and test the implementation of the recommendations of the review in advance of legislation.

This is a major programme of work, but it is necessary to achieve the systemic overhaul that we are aiming for: requiring all parties to change and putting residents’ safety at the heart of the system. I am clear we want a change that lasts—we are determined to learn the lessons from the Grenfell tragedy and bring about a fundamental change in both a regulatory framework and the industry culture that will make people safe—and feel safe—in their homes.