Legislation plans regulator for buildings over 18m, new homes ombudsman and tougher regulatory framework for construction products
The Building Safety Bill is a pivotal moment in the history of UK construction and the industry must embrace the chance to make far-reaching reforms, the head of the Construction Industry Council has said.
Chief executive Graham Watts said it was critical that industry stepped up as the government published its long-awaited legislation intended to force changes in an industry whose collective failures have been exposed by the ongoing Grenfell Inquiry.
Watts said: “More than 40 years’ of deregulation is being reversed by the Building Safety Bill with its important emphasis on a national rather than local regulatory regime for higher-risk buildings.
“The early sight of proposals for draft statutory instruments is particularly welcome in terms of understanding issues relating to the eventual implementation of the legislation.
“It is essential that the industry does not see this as being just about high-rise residential and fire safety but as a lever for far-reaching cultural reform. We all have to take the life safety of those who use our buildings far more seriously than in the past.”
The bill, drawn up to make sure another tragedy like the Grenfell fire four years ago doesn’t happen again, was presented to the Commons without debate yesterday afternoon. No date has been announced for its second reading. It contains measures to introduce a new regulator for buildings over 18m, a new homes ombudsman, a tougher regulatory framework for construction products and enhanced powers for the Architects Registration Board (Arb).
Rebecca Rees, a partner at law firm, Trowers & Hamlins who has been advising on the Hackitt Review and guiding clients on building safety, described it as a “dense and technical piece of legislation”.
She added: “It deserves detailed scrutiny but quite clearly the pre-legislative plea for more detail has been heard: resulting in an additional 27 clauses. In fact, it is clear that MHCLG has been in listening mode with lots of additional detail included to tease out the challenges created by complex ownership structures, multi-tenure buildings and the hot potato question of ‘who pays’.
“Alongside the previous provisions on the establishment of a new Building Safety Regulator, New Homes Ombudsman and Resident Engagement Panel, further detail has also been included: the definition of a higher-risk building (including what it means for one to be ‘occupied’); there is now a ‘principal’ accountable person; extensive competency provisions; and the ability for a special measures order where management is not up to scratch.”
Peter Hogg, UK cities director at Arcadis, said the measures would “focus the minds of the supply-side” by making clear that government sees safety in tall buildings to be industry’s responsibility.
Of measures to extend the period of time that homeowners have to sue over shoddy workmanship, he said: “The retrospective nature of the extension to liability also makes clear that government sees remedying historic issues as the industry’s problem to solve.”
But he added: “Looking at the plight of leaseholders in buildings that are blighted by historic issues, the bill does not see the government stepping in, nor does it see them mandating developers and contractors to pick up the tab. The requirement for developers only to demonstrate that they have looked at alternatives before passing costs to leaseholders is not the answer that many leaseholders were desperately hoping for. It is an answer that will leave many in a state of continued uncertainty.”
And Jonathan Frankel, litigation partner at property law specialists Cavendish Legal Group, said housing secretary Robert Jenrick was wrong to suggest the move would put more cards in the hands of the leaseholder.
“It simply delays the period of limitation to allow them to bring legal challenges,” he said. “As such, issues of representation and funding for any legal action and subsequent repairs will continue to be the major obstacle for most leaseholders.
“Politically this feels like the government is simply kicking the can down the road which will actually prolong the pain for leaseholders further. In my view there is no benefit to extending the limitation period without helping leaseholders fund potential legal actions. That’s the change we want to see.”
Lord Richard Best, a cross bench peer and chair of the Affordable Housing Commission, said the bill’s introduction of a New Homes Ombudsman service for people buying homes ”should lead to much needed improvements for the consumer after years of hassle over shoddy workmanship, snagging defects and poor treatment of complaints”.
However he warned: “The Bill needs to ensure the New Homes Ombudsman has real teeth to enforce redress and raise standards: I will be pursuing this when the Bill arrives in the House of Lords.”
The UK Cladding Action Group described the legislation as the “ultimate betrayal of innocent victims”.
But others welcomed the bill. Judith Hackitt, chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety and author of the Hackitt Review which was commissioned after the Grenfell fire, said: “I am delighted that we have reached this important milestone for the Building Safety Bill. It is vital that we focus on getting the system right for the future and set new standards for building safety.
“Residents and other stakeholders need to have their confidence in high rise buildings restored and those who undertake such projects must be held to account for delivering safe buildings.”
Alan Kershaw, chair of the Arb, offered a warm welcome to “a significant milestone”, while Scott Steedman, director general of standards at the BSI, said: “Over time we expect that the combination of the new bill and the competence standards will bring a much-needed change of culture to the entire built environment sector and long-term benefits to the public, living and working in buildings, to the workers in the sector and to the building owners.”
Jonathan Moulam, president of the Association for Project Safety, said the bill offered the opportunity to ”reset building safety in England by designing safety in and appointing a safety expert to every team when projects are being developed”.