Mathew Baxter, Group CEO of echelon Consultancy, gives his view on the key piece of housing legislation discussed in the Queen’s Speech to Parliament, the Building Safety Bill, and what it will mean for construction in practice
Although not expected to come into force till 2023, the new Building Safety Bill will introduce a new regulatory regime, overseen by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to enhance the structural safety of new and existing residential buildings.
So what does the Building Safety Bill mean in terms of emergent legislation, and is the housing industry prepared for substantive change on this scale?
Communication with residents
The Building Safety Bill proposes a significant amount of consultation with residents. Every ‘higher risk’ property has to have a strategy around the programme of change that it will need. Resident consultation exercises will result in organic documents that will live as long as that building is occupied and evolve over time.
Comprehensive understanding of stock
Housing associations and landlords will need to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of their property and stock.
For example, if you have a cladded building you need to know exactly what the specification of that cladding is: not all cladding is equal, and risk profiles vary. Intrusive surveys may be required to ascertain the exact construction and product used.
There is still a clear issue that many building owners and managers are unsure what their building is clad in and how the cladding is fixed to the building.
Effectively, this is something landlords need to get a comprehensive understanding of immediately, for fear of very rapid enforcement action from the local authority.
“There is still a clear issue that many building owners and managers are unsure what their building is clad in and how the cladding is fixed to the building”
Local Authorities are entirely within their rights to approach registered providers and ask for copies of the fire-safety regulation compliance of these buildings. If it has not been done, they can take action, and that can include decanting the whole building and ordering remedial works.
The Building Safety Bill may have a grace period before it comes into force on existing buildings, and elements that are likely to be included are already being discussed – for example, competency frameworks, resident engagement strategies, and two separate roles (namely building safety managers and accountable persons).
Higher risk buildings
One of the most significant changes the Building Safety Bill will create is a new definition of buildings as ‘higher risk’ buildings.
This category will obviously include high rise but also student accommodation and supported living accommodation. Any building over 18m, or more than six storeys, is immediately defined as high risk.
The Bill also makes it clear that the new building safety regulator (created under the Bill) can also add other buildings to the category at their discretion.
The Bill places a lot more responsibility on landlords and owners of those buildings; in fact, the accountable person has legal responsibility for those buildings as long as they are occupied.
Responsibilities include the assessment of fire safety risks, co-operation with any remedial action in terms of fire safety, the registration of high-rise buildings, building safety information and the appointment of the building safety manager.
An accountable person has to be identified and that person has a duty to report the name and details of the building safety manager to the building safety regulator.
“Many of our clients are appointing building safety managers directly with a salary between £60k-70k”
This individual’s contact details have to be available to everyone in the building, a safety case report has to be undertaken and managed along with a risk assessment and an ongoing strategy for the safety of the building and information provided to the new regulator.
If the building safety manager is found to be non-compliant, then they risk a prison sentence. Many of our clients are appointing building safety managers directly, with a salary between £60k-70k.
The guidance is that they should not look after more than five buildings each as the responsibility carries too much weight for more, and as such this represents a significant resource for many landlords with a large portfolio of ‘higher risk’ buildings.
A costly impact?
The impact of this Bill will have an enormous impact on leaseholders and indeed everyone involved in construction and building maintenance.
The administrative burden and personal responsibility on those accountable will be equally enormous but, in my view, absolutely necessary.
Our advice to all our clients is to start planning ahead and to develop a strategy of how they will deliver all the aspects of the Building Safety Bill once it becomes legislation.
The echelon Group is a Housing Digital Stakeholder, and a UK-wide procurement consultancy. Its core services are built around an ethos of adapting and flexing to meet client’s individual requirements.
Are you a social housing professional? Sign up for a FREE MEMBERSHIP to upload news stories, post job vacancies, and connect with colleagues on our secure social feed.