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Building and Fire Safety

Volume 678: debated on Monday 20 July 2020

I would like to update Parliament on the Government’s progress in overhauling the building and fire safety system, as part of our unwavering commitment to ensuring that people, and the buildings they live in, are safe.

Building safety

We must never forget the 72 people who lost their lives as a result of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Countless lives were torn apart by that tragedy, and we owe it to the deceased, the bereaved, the survivors, and the residents of all high-rise buildings to ensure that we do all we can to prevent a repeat of events like that fateful night occurring again.

We promised to overhaul the system and to establish a national building safety regulator at its heart. Today I am pleased to be making a significant step towards that fundamental reform by publishing the draft Building Safety Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny, before the final Bill is brought forward to Parliament.

The Bill will establish the regulator in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and give it significant powers to improve safety and performance across the built environment, especially in higher-risk buildings.

These reforms will improve safety and performance standards across all buildings. However, certain buildings warrant even closer oversight because the potential for significant consequences should a fire spread or the structure fail. It is right that we have a more stringent regime where the risk is deemed greatest, to protect the greatest number of people. Initially the scope of the more stringent regime will apply to multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height or more than six storeys, whichever is reached first. We have designed the new regime so its scope can be changed if the evidence base or operational experience suggest it should.

The Bill will provide a stronger framework to make sure those responsible for managing building safety risks in higher-risk buildings are held to account, with stronger enforcement powers and sanctions where those rules are not followed. It will also ensure that the residents of high-rise buildings have a stronger voice, alongside giving them better access to safety information about their building, clarifying their rights and providing recourse to raise safety concerns directly to the regulator.

The draft Bill applies to England only with the exception of the policies to require developers to belong to a New Homes Ombudsman scheme, strengthen the oversight of the construction products regulatory regime, and allow the Architects Registration Board (ARB) to monitor the competence of architects. Further detailed analysis of the territorial extent is provided in the explanatory notes.

Building safety financing

The Government are clear that it is unacceptable for leaseholders to have to worry about the cost of fixing historic safety defects in their buildings that they did not cause.

The draft Bill proposes a new building safety charge, which will give leaseholders greater transparency around costs incurred in maintaining a safe building. We want these to be fair and proportionate, which is why I have deliberately included numerous powers in the Bill that will enable us to limit the building safety costs that can be re-charged to leaseholders.

This is a topic that we are particularly committed to developing further throughout the process of scrutiny and as the Bill is finalised for introduction. I have asked Michael Wade, senior adviser to the Cabinet Office, to accelerate this work with leaseholders and the financial sector. We must remove barriers to fixing historic defects and identify financing solutions that protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs; but we must also ensure that the bill does not fall on tax payers. We will update on any further measures required before the final Bill is introduced to Parliament.

Establishing the building safety regulator

As I announced in January, the HSE is establishing the regulator in shadow form, and I am today announcing that I have set aside £16.4 million in this financial year for HSE to recruit the people and develop the capabilities that will enable the regulator to hit the ground running once its powers come into effect.

HSE has a strong track record of improving safety and fostering a safety-first culture within the construction and major hazards industries, and will draw on years of experience to deliver results quickly and effectively. As shadow regulator, HSE is playing an increasingly important role in the Government’s building safety programme: it is supporting work on how to identify higher-risk buildings; supporting work by the National Fire Chiefs Council to assess the fire risk in every high-rise residential building by end 2021; and supporting work with early adopters in the construction industry, social landlords and local government to trial the new regime, and to promote culture change across the industry. I am today announcing that HSE will also take over as chair of the Joint Regulators’ Group, which advises the Government on ways to strengthen the regulatory regime; and will take over the Independent Expert Advisory Panel, which advises the Government on fire safety in high-rise residential buildings.

Over coming months, the shadow regulator will engage with and advise residents, building owners, the construction industry and other regulators on how the new system will operate, what it will mean for them, and what they should do now to make their buildings safe and prepare for the new regime. In the autumn, we will kick off work to appoint the first national chief inspector of buildings, who will lead the new regulator.

We, and the public, expect industry to manage building safety risks now and prepare to fulfil their duties when this new regime comes into effect. The public expects and demands industry to implement these reforms with conviction and speed. The new Building Safety Regulator stands ready to work hand in hand with industry to bring about a culture change that prioritises residents and their safety.

Fire safety reforms

The Home Office is also today publishing a fire safety consultation, which sets out proposals to strengthen the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005—the fire safety order—and improve compliance for all regulated buildings; implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 report recommendations for multi-occupied residential buildings which require a change in law; and, seeks views on the effectiveness of the arrangements for consultation and information sharing between building control bodies and fire and rescue authorities in relation to building work. This is alongside a commitment to overhaul the fire safety order’s supporting guidance.

Proposals for multi-occupied residential buildings, mostly high-rise buildings, include prescribing in law the frequency of checks of fire doors; that responsible persons (RPs) carry out inspections of other key fire-fighting equipment, not just lifts designed to be used by firefighters; and that RPs provide information to residents including in relation to fire safety—including evacuation and other specific information—in an accessible format.

Our proposals go beyond the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s recommendations in several areas. In others, our proposals prioritise residents’ safety in a way that is practical, proportionate and effective to the risks the inquiry has identified. The Government want to listen to the views of those who have experience of these matters, including those who have been personally affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The proposals set out in the Home Office consultation will further deliver the Government’s objective to improve building and fire safety in all regulated premises where people live, stay or work.

Construction products

The Bill also enables us to progress our commitment to radically strengthen oversight of the regulatory regime for construction products. The Bill will make sure a wider range of construction products are subject to strengthened safety regulations. It will also strengthen the powers available to the Government, paving the way to create a new national regulatory function that will have oversight of the construction products regulation. The Government are developing options for how this new national regulatory function could be implemented.

Other housing measures

The draft Bill also contains measures to protect the rights of all new build home buyers by requiring developers to belong to the New Homes Ombudsman. It also includes new measures that will make access to redress swifter and more effective for all social housing residents.

Pre-legislative scrutiny

These are extensive reforms that it is incumbent on us all to get right. The Building Safety Bill is a large and complex piece of legislation, reflecting the scale of the reforms needed. In this spirit, I am publishing the Bill in draft form to ensure it receives the due and proper consideration it deserves through pre-legislative scrutiny from Parliament, from industry, from regulatory bodies, and from residents. I want to thank those that have helped shape the legislation so far, including those who contributed to the “Building a Safer Future” consultation and who have engaged in various forums with my Department. I now encourage colleagues from across both Houses to engage wholeheartedly in strengthening these proposals so that together we can further improve the legislation and deliver greater safety for residents.

I will deposit copies of the draft Building Safety Bill, delegated powers memorandum and impact assessment in the Libraries of both Houses. A copy of the full fire safety consultation and its impact assessment will also be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.