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Government consults on a new regulatory system for high rise buildings 13/06/2019 Labelled as Regulation

The Government issued a consultation paper on 6 June 2019 setting out proposals for a new regulatory system for high rise buildings. The proposals in the consultation paper will have far reaching consequences for stock-retained councils as owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings and potentially commissioners of any new high-rise buildings and will impose significant new and onerous responsibilities on councils as landlords and building owners. The proposals will also give tenants and residents of high-rise residential buildings new rights and responsibilities.

 

The proposed new regulations may also be extended over time to other residential buildings including supported housing and sheltered accommodation.

 

Following the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 the Government commissioned an Independent Review of Building Regulation and Fire Safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt, which found that there are issues with the way some high-rise residential buildings are built, managed and looked after. Her review also found that sometimes residents are not confident that their buildings are safe and have been unable to get their concerns taken seriously.

 

To address the issues identified in Dame Judith's report, the Government has now published a consultation on a set of policy proposals to improve the fire and structural safety of high-rise residential buildings. The Government says that these proposals will help shape changes in the law that will help to make sure high-rise residential buildings are safe to live in and residents are able to have their voices heard.

 

This consultation sets out how the Government plans to overhaul the regulatory system for high rise residential buildings through:

 

  • Clearer responsibilities for those building or managing these buildings;
  • A stronger voice in the system and better information for residents;
  • Greater oversight by regulators; and
  • Tougher enforcement when things go wrong.

 

Chapter 1of the consultation paper sets out what the Government has already done and is currently doing to make buildings safer.

 

Chapter 2of the consultation paper describes which buildings these new changes and improvements will affect.

 

Dame Judith Hackitt's Independent Review recommended applying new requirements for buildings over 10 storeys, but the Government proposes a wider scope because of the numbers of fires in these buildings and the risk to people's safety.

 

The consultation paper proposes that the new building safety regime will be for buildings that are:

 

  • Lived in by multiple households; and
  • 18 metres high (6 storeys) or more.

 

Home Office research shows that fire incidents in buildings where people sleep which are not residential can be high, for example in prisons, hospitals, supported/sheltered housing and educational buildings. So, the Government wants to design a regulatory system so that over time, additional buildings, for example buildings where vulnerable people sleep, may be included.

 

Chapter 3of the consultation paper describes what the Government wants to do to make sure there are clear designated"dutyholders"looking after buildings at all stages - from when they are being designed and built to when people are living in them.

 

The "dutyholders" are the people who will be legally responsible for ensuring the building is designed and built to be safe for its residents.

 

Part A of chapter 3 of the consultation paper proposes introducing 5 designated "dutyholders" who will be responsible for the safety of a building when it is being designed and built, including ensuring that building regulations are complied with. It sets out a clear set of responsibilities that they need to meet to show how they are making buildings safe.Building regulationswill set out the minimum standards that buildings and building works must meet to make sure they are safe. Part A of chapter 3 proposes:

 

  • Making sure that there are a clear set of dutyholders involved in the design and build of buildings so that there is clear responsibility.
  • Dutyholders will be responsible for ensuring that building regulations - the minimum standards a building must meet - are complied with.
  • Dutyholders will to be required to show that they are managing risks at 3 new'gateway points'before they can continue with the different stages of the building process.
    • Gateway 1 - before planning permission can be given, the "dutyholder" will need to submit a'fire statement'and the regulator will consult the Fire and Rescue Authority to make sure fire safety is considered early on.
    • Gateway 2 - before construction can begin, the "dutyholder" will need to show how the building has been designed to be safe and follows building regulations by providing full plans and supporting documents.
    • Gateway 3 - before anyone can move into the building, the "dutyholder" will need to hand over building safety information about the completed building. They will need to apply for and receive a provisional registration of the building and tell the regulator that building risks have been assessed and arrangements are in place to make sure the building is managed safely while people are living there.

 

Part B of chapter 3 of the consultation paper sets out how an'accountable person'should look after higher risk buildings once people have moved in and what their responsibilities are. The 'accountable person' is the person legally responsible for the fire and structural safety of a building when people are living in it. This involves:

 

  • Creating a new 'accountable person' role who will be the dutyholder responsible for making sure that building fire and structural safety risks are reduced as much as reasonably practicable when people are living in the building.
  • Dutyholders will create a'safety case'which contains all the important information about a building that shows how the dutyholders are managing any fire or structural risks on an ongoing basis.
  • The accountable person may also employ a'Building Safety Manager'who has the right skills and expertise to look after the building. Their role would be to help the accountable person by doing the day-to-day work involved with keeping a building safe. E.g. the Building Safety Manager would be there to deal with any safety problems they find or are reported by residents in the block(s) they are responsible for.

 

Part C of chapter 3 sets out how the Government will ensure that buildings are safe throughout their lifecycle. At all stages of a building's lifecycle - from when it's designed and built, to when people are living in it, someone will be responsible for managing and minimising fire and structural risks. Part C sets out the duties that run through the building's life cycle and proposes:

 

  • The dutyholder to be responsible for"the golden thread"of building information ensuring it is created, maintained and held digitally throughout the building life cycle to support safety improvements. In addition, the consultation paper proposes that key information such as building type/purpose, size and years built, should be held in a specified format so the regulator can easily access key information.
  • A system of 'mandatory occurrence reporting' to the regulator which will ensure that the client, principal designer, principal contractor and accountable person must ensure that anyone involved in the construction of a building can report fire and structural issues.
  • The new system will make sure that all dutyholders employ people who are suitably qualified and competent in applying the necessary skills, knowledge and behaviors to make informed decisions and carry out their job effectively.

 

Chapter 4of the consultation paper describes how the Government intends to empower residents by giving them the right safety information about their building and making sure that they can raise any views or concerns about the safety of their building and not be ignored and the accountable person in an occupied high-rise building will have specific duties to residents.

 

The proposals in the consultation paper will give residents a stronger voice and allow them to hold those responsible for the safety of their buildings to account. Residents will be empowered by having better access to information about their building and have more of a say over decisions made about the fire and structural safety of their building:

 

  • The accountable person (the person with overall responsibility for the safety of the building) must provide residents with the information they need so that they understand the protections in place to keep their building safe from structural or fire issues.
  • Residents will also be able to access more detailed information about building and fire safety by requesting it from the accountable person. The accountable person will only be able to refuse to provide information for specified reasons (e.g. that sharing the information would be a security risk or would divulge personal information).
  • The accountable person must have a "Resident Engagement Strategy"which sets out the way that they are going to engage with residents and how residents can get involved and benefit from participating in engagement on building safety.
  • The consultation paper proposes a clear obligation on residents to co-operate with the work of the accountable person to keep the building safe and are asking for views on the obligation and what safeguards would be needed.
  • To make sure that residents can raise safety concerns, the accountable person will need to have a clear process for how they will respond to residents' concerns.
  • Residents will be able to take urgent safety concerns to the new regulator if the accountable person fails to deal with them properly.

 

Chapter 5of the consultation paper sets out how the Government will make sure that there is effective oversight of the regulatory system by creating a"building safety regulator". This regulator will be responsible for making sure everyone follows the new regulations, and that those responsible for buildings have the right skills and knowledge for the job. It will also have oversight of building safety across England.

 

The new building safety regulator would be responsible at a national level for:

 

  • Oversight of building safety and wider regulation;
  • Oversight of operation and enforcement of the new regime for high rise residential buildings, and setting guidance;
  • Advising government on what buildings should be included in the scope of the new regime, by developing and analysing evidence on risk; and
  • Oversight of competence of people working on buildings, including keeping a register of those competent to take on key dutyholder roles in the new system and providing guidance on where to find qualified people to work on buildings in scope.

 

The consultation paper also proposes stronger regulation of construction products by:

 

  • Making manufacturers' responsibilities clearer in legislation, focusing on construction products that are critical to safety, and requiring clear labelling and information so that it is clear how the product should be used safely;
  • Strengthening national regulation of construction products, with a national complaints system and a stronger focus on enforcement, so that problems are dealt with effectively; and
  • Setting minimum standards for independent assurance schemes and encouraging their use, so people can be confident that construction products meet the standards manufacturers claim.

 

The Government is also proposing that the whole regulatory system is independently reviewed to make sure that it is working properly.

 

Chapter 6of the consultation paper sets out proposals to make sure those working on buildings follow the requirements and where that doesn't happen that there is an effective way to hold them to account, including sanctions to punish those who don't follow them.

 

The consultation paper proposes to:

 

  • Createnew criminal offencesto make sure that those responsible for the safety of a high-rise residential building during the design and construction of the building, as well as when residents are living in the building, comply with their responsibilities;
  • Give the new regulator the power to take quick and effective action, throughmonetary penaltiessuch as fines, when the requirements of the new regime have not been met.

 

The Government is also proposing to make it easier to take action for all buildings where building work does not meet required building regulations standards by:

 

  • Giving local authorities more time to serve enforcement notices, so that they can take action where problems are uncovered later; and
  • Enabling private individuals to make a claim for damages where work on a building has not met building regulations standards, and they have suffered harm as a result.

 

The consultation paper "Building a Safer Future: proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system" can be downloaded from the Government website.

 

The Government has also produced a "quick read guide" summarising the proposals.

 

Residents, building owners, the construction industry and the fire safety sector are all encouraged to make their voices heard by participating in the consultation and helping shape the future of building and fire safety to make sure residents are safe and feel safe in their homes.

 

The closing date for responses to the consultation paper is 31 July 2019. The ARCH Board and ARCH Tenant Group will be considering the proposals in the consultation paper and we invite ARCH member councils to submit their views and comments to ARCH Policy Adviser Matthew Warburton Matthew.warburton@arch-housing.org.uk to help inform the ARCH response to the consultation paper.

 

The Home Office has also launched a call for evidence on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England. The call for evidence is the first part of a process to ensure that the Fire Safety Order is fit for purpose for all buildings it regulates.

 

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