The Notre-Dame Fire: safeguarding our historic buildings
On 6 June 2019 the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government launched a consultation on building and fire safety regulation. The consultation ‘Building a Safer Future: Proposals for reform in the building safety regulatory system’ is the fourth since Dame Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in which she made 53 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the government. Hackitt’s review concluded that the current system for ensuring fire safety in high rise buildings was not fit for purpose and recommended a new regulatory framework.
The consultation proposes to look at five broad areas:
The consultation outlines a regime that covers all multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres (or 6 storeys) or more, this goes further than Dame Hackitt’s recommendations which was to start with buildings over 30 metres (or 10 storeys). The scope of the regime may be extended to cover buildings, for example, where vulnerable people sleep, or higher risk workplaces.
The consultation describes a requirement to demonstrate a building’s safety through a new system of gateway points during design and construction and through a ‘safety case’ regime during its occupation. The consultation draws upon the Hackitt review in proposing a ‘golden thread’ of building information be created, maintained and held digitally, to ensure ‘that the original design intent and any subsequent changes to the building are captured, preserved and used to support safety improvements.’ During any occupation of what are deemed ‘higher risk residential buildings’ the government propose the introduction of a new ‘accountable person’ who would be the dutyholder legally responsible for ensuring that building fire and structural safety risks are reduced so far as is reasonably practicable. The accountable person must register their building(s) with the building safety regulator, comply with the requirements of a building safety certificate issued by that regulator and carry out, provide to the regulator and comply with a ‘safety case’ demonstrating how they have reduced risk. The accountable person must also name a competent building safety manager and provide them with access to funding necessary to carry out their functions.
Giving residents a stronger voice in the system and ensuring their concerns are never ignored and ‘guaranteeing the provision of better information to residents on their buildings and better engagement to help them participate in decisions about safety.’ The consultation outlines this would be achieved by an accountable person (through the building safety manager) proactively providing residents with the information they need so that they understand the protections that are in place to keep their building safe; providing residents with more detailed information on building and fire safety on request; and proactively engaging with residents through developing and implementing a ‘Resident Engagement Strategy’.
Plans for a new single building safety regulator to provide oversight, at a national level, of the new building safety regulatory regime. The proposal is that the new regulator would also oversee the wider building and regulatory system and ‘watch over efforts to assure the competence of those working on buildings.’ The consultation also proposes to strengthen the oversight and regulation of construction products.
Strengthened enforcement and sanctions to deter non-compliance with the new regime. The consultation outlines a three stage process for the building safety regulator:
1) Reinforcement of operating standards and the provision of professional guidance by seeking to achieve compliance through informally working with the dutyholders/accountable persons;
2) Proactive intervention and monitoring, where the collaboration approach fails to achieve the desired outcome, or where the building safety regulator determines that the offence in question warrants more serious action, for example issuing stop notices or improvement notices;
3) Enforcement action, where the first two stages have failed to achieve compliance, the building safety regulator moves to take enforcement action against dutyholders/accountable persons. This may be through formal orders, penalties, or by reviewing the building safety certificate which may, ultimately, lead to revocation. The building safety regulator may also decide to prosecute the dutyholders/accountable persons.
Simultaneously, the government has issued a call for evidence on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (“Fire Safety Order”) to ensure it is ‘fit for purpose for all regulated premises.’ The Fire Safety Order applies to non-domestic premises, including workplaces and the parts used in common in multi-occupied residential buildings.
The call for evidence is targeted at those who have statutory responsibilities under the Fire Safety Order or are otherwise affected by it. This includes enforcing authorities such as fire and rescue Services and Authorities, Local Government and the Health and Safety Executive, as well as those responsible for the safety of buildings covered by the Order and those working within them. The call also seeks views from landlords, managing agents and residents, drawing upon Dame Hackitt’s consideration of the application of the Fire Safety Order in respect of the common parts of high rise multi-occupied residential buildings.
The government state that responses will:
be used to assess any changes that may be needed and how they may be best achieved to ensure high and proportionate standards of fire safety in all buildings covered by the order.
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