The UK Government today published its Building Safety Bill, three years after the Grenfell tragedy in which 72 people lost their lives in a fire in a tower block in Kensington, London, the worst residential fire in the UK since World War II.
The Bill seeks to implement the recommendations of the Hackitt Report of May 2018, in which Dame Judith Hackitt recommended the establishment of an entirely new regulatory framework for ensuring the safety of higher-risk buildings through their procurement, design, development and maintenance phases.
Higher-risk buildings are defined in the Bill as those that are prescribed, but, for the time being are those that are 18 metres or six storeys or more.
The Bill creates a new regulator (within the Health and Safety Executive ("HSE")), the Building Safety Regulator to oversee the new, more stringent, regulatory regime for higher-risk buildings, ensuring residents have a stronger voice and providing a clearer framework for the national oversight of construction products (and, in particular, cladding).
The Bill also develops the previously rather vague concept of duty-holders, each of whom will be accountable for managing risks across the design, construction, and occupation of buildings on an ongoing basis. This will be achieved by:
- establishing gateway points (stop/go decision points) which will require the assessment of safety risks prior to identified steps being taken in the development process;
- requiring a "golden thread" of building information to be created, stored and updated through the gateway process and throughout the building’s lifecycle;
- requiring mandatory reporting to the Building Safety Regulator of fire and structural safety "occurrences" which could cause a significant risk to life safety;
- building registration and a certificate that confirms a building is fit for occupation. This Building Assurance Certificate will be periodically reviewed;
- creating an ongoing duty on the Accountable Person (who is the duty holder in occupation). This duty will be to assess building safety risks, taking all reasonable steps to prevent the occurrence of a major incident in the building as a result of these risks;
- a statutory requirement for the Accountable Person to provide a "Safety Case Report" which demonstrates how building safety risks are being identified, mitigated and managed on an ongoing basis;
- requiring the Accountable Person to appoint a competent Building Safety Manager to support them in managing fire and structural safety risks in the building day-to-day; and
- requirements to engage and develop a strong partnership with residents to keep the building safe through greater transparency and effective complaints handling.
Dame Judith Hackitt has welcomed the Bill as "an important milestone in delivering fundamental reform [the] industry needs to make residents and buildings safer".
The Bill is 334 pages so will need detailed analysis, as it goes through the various Parliamentary stages and we will be supplementing this Alert as issues are identified.
The issues are complex but it is already becoming clear that there are significant issues concerning its implementation.
Here are two: first, what are the transitional provisions? If, for example, you are proposing to acquire a partially developed building (or one with planning permission but not developed) when the Bill becomes law, do you have to re-consider its design in the light of the legislation? If you fail to do so, will you be criminally liable?
Secondly, the Bill highlights the potential tension between the Government's desire to tighten safety laws (on the one hand) and its push to loosen the planning system as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic (on the other). So, for example, if you take advantage of the Government's proposed new permitted development right to increase your residential building by two storeys, does that fall within the ambit of the Bill or not? How will that, and many other, tensions play out?