British Safety Council adds to criticism of Building Safety Bill

The Building Safety Bill is part of the government’s response to the Hackitt Review into building safety that it commissioned after the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

The draft Bill  has a host of measures for buildings over 18 metres high, including:

  • a new building safety regulator (for inhabitants’ safety, not construction worker safety)
  • new government powers to regulate construction materials and products
  • residents panels
  • a complaints ombudsman for buyers of new home
  • creation of the roles ‘accountable person’ and ‘building safety manager’
  • duty holders to be responsible for keeping a so-called ‘golden thread’ of safety information about how the building was designed and built, like a service manual, to be stored electronically for the entire life of the building.

The British Council says that while reform is needed, “it is our view that it lacks the requisite detail to demonstrate that the proposed measures would be effective in practice”, it said.

The British Safety Council supports greater independent oversight on key professions in the construction and building management sectors to ensure the success of the newly created roles of accountable person and building safety manager, it said. But it will have little effect unless the government spells out the precise responsibilities, it added.

The British Safety Council also argues for removal of the section of the draft Bill that leaves leaseholders liable for the cost of resolving existing fire safety issues.

Chief executive Mike Robinson said: “If the new regulations are to secure public confidence, they need to be transparent.  A good example is on the testing of building material. The tests themselves must be rigorous to prove fire safety but the results must be publicly available, particularly where materials have failed to meet regulatory standards.

“We have said, on many occasions, that it is unacceptable for leaseholders to be presented with huge bills to fix existing fire problems not of their making or be unable to sell or insure their homes due to new requirements.

“The government must commit to funding the cost of fire remediation and leaseholders should not have to foot the bill.”

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The intervention of the British Safety Council follows publication last week of a report by the House of Commons housing, communities & local government committee, an all-party committee of backbenchers.

This also called for more detail on the new roles. “The exact responsibilities and competencies of the newly established accountable person and building safety manager positions are not well-defined and should be clarified,” it said. “The Bill should also require building safety managers, as well as other professions involved in the design and construction of high risk buildings, be subject to national accreditation and registration standards.”

The committee report also found that the draft legislation fails to provide sufficient protection against leaseholders paying the bill for work to remedy existing fire safety defects.

Labour MP Clive Betts, who chairs the committee, said: “Establishing a new regime to ensure that buildings are made safe will require significant change to how buildings are constructed and maintained. It is crucial that from day one those tasking with their design, construction and upkeep have no doubt of the new standards they are to adhere to and responsibilities expected of them.

“As it stands, there are still questions over how the broad framework set out in the draft Bill will operate in practice. Key definitions remain unclear and responsibilities ill-defined. Before they bring the legislation back to the House of Commons these areas must be addressed in full.

“The government must also bring an end to the ongoing uncertainty around who will pay the cost for the historic failures in the building safety regime. Leaseholders should not be expected to foot the bill for failures that were not of their making.

“This has dragged on far too long now and the government must accept that it will have to step in to cover the cost in the short term. But we are equally clear in stating that this should be the first step ahead of establishing robust mechanisms to ensure that those who are responsible for fire safety failures finance their remediation.”

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