Building a safer future: recent developments highlight direction of travel


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The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published its response to its consultation on Dame Judith Hackitt's, 'Building a Safer Future' report and recommendations. Last summer's consultation sought feedback on Government proposals for law reform of the building and fire safety regimes. The response seeks to clarify areas of ambiguity raised in the consultation and provides further detail about the reform agenda.

All 53 recommendations of the Hackitt Review will be adopted in a new Building Safety Bill to be tabled this year, although exact timetables have yet to be confirmed. There will also be a phased transition period for existing buildings to be brought into line with the new in-occupation obligations.

We have set out below some key points from the response that housing associations will need to get to grips with over the next coming months:

In-scope buildings

The Government has confirmed that the new regime will cover all multi-occupied residential buildings of more than six storeys or 18 metres, whichever measurement is reached first. The scope will be extended in due course to other types of tenanted buildings, based on "emerging risk evidence". While these aren't named, we know from last year's consultation that the Government is eyeing other non-residential buildings where people sleep, including schools, hospitals and prisons.

Regulator

As expected, the new national Building Safety Regulator will sit within the Health & Safety Executive (currently designated as the shadow Regulator), and report to the Secretary of State for Housing. A new Chief Inspector of Buildings will be appointed, and the Regulator will be supported by Fire and Rescue services, local authority building control, the HSE, a register of Approved Inspectors and external consultants. There is still a question mark over who will staff the new Regulator and whether the industry has sufficient current expertise to ensure there will be sufficient people to fill the new roles and do the work on the industry side of things too.

Dutyholders

The new regime will adopt the CDM-style list of Dutyholder roles during the construction phase. Further detail has been provided about some Dutyholder roles; "Designers" includes anyone who instructs a person under their control to prepare or modify a design, whereas "Contractors" includes anyone who manages or directly appoints construction workers. The Government will encourage all Dutyholders to become signatories to its new Building Safety Charter.

Gateways

Gateway 1:  The scope of Gateway 1 has been extended from its original coverage of buildings of 30 metres or more to include all buildings over 18 metres/6 storeys in height. Local authorities reviewing Gateway 1 applications will need to consult with Fire & Rescue Services on a statutory basis. The Government has promised an additional £20 million for Fire & Rescue Services to enable them to increase fire inspection and enforcement capability.

Gateway 2: Clients will need to ensure that the Principal Contractor and the Principal Designer demonstrate the necessary competence to discharge their duties effectively during the design and construction of in-scope buildings. Gateway 2 applications will be assessed "within a reasonable timeframe" but the Response does not provide specific timescales. Helpfully, the Regulator will be able to permit staged approvals for complex projects, provided that the safety case can be demonstrated.

Gateway 3: To progress to Gateway 3, the Client, Principal Designer and Principal Contractor will be required to co-sign a declaration confirming that the building complies with building regulations to the best of their knowledge. The Regulator will permit partial occupation of in-scope buildings before they are completed, subject to suitable fire management and safety strategies being in place. Failure to pass a Gateway is likely to result in a "hard-stop" for the project and will therefore be of critical significance to clients and contractors alike.

Safety Case

The Response sets out further detail on the requirements for the Safety Case, which must be maintained throughout the design and construction phase and the occupation of in-scope buildings. Dutyholders and Accountable Persons must include written explanations and justifications of the approach being taken to risk management, and reference supporting evidence. As with fire risk assessments under the Fire Safety Order, Accountable Persons will be required to identify potential hazards and at-risk persons, evaluate the risks, decide on necessary controls and mitigation measures, and record, evaluate and monitor the risks on an ongoing basis.

Building Safety Manager

The BSM is employed by the Accountable Person and has day-to-day responsibility for safety at and around the HRRB. It can be a legal entity or a natural person, and the administrative cost for duties during occupation must be "proportional, transparent and fall to those who benefit from the reforms".

Golden thread

The "golden thread" of building information must be maintained digitally and made accessible to key stakeholders. While the Government has not yet mandated Building Information Modelling (BIM) for the new regime, most respondents to the Government's consultation agreed that BIM should be used, and in some cases expanded, to meet the new requirements.

Procurement

The response cites the Government Construction Strategy and the Trial Projects Delivery Group who report successful use of collaborative and partnered approaches to construction. Public sector bodies are encouraged to use the Crown Commercial Service's Construction Works and Associated Services Framework Agreement to instruct works to its in-scope buildings, in advance of the new legislation.
Disappointingly, no formal recommendations have been made in respect of procurement, though further guidance is expected from the Government's Procurement Working Group (of which Trowers & Hamlins is a member).

Further details and guidance will have to wait until the Government tables the new Bill.
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