Input to the pre-legislative scrutiny for the draft Building Safety Bill by the Select Committee closes on the 14th September. The draft bill is a long-awaited and welcome reform that focuses on higher-risk buildings in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy. While it is a fundamental step on the journey to improving the safety of our built environment, it is hoped the current scope of the legislation will cascade into buildings other than high-rise residential blocks over 18 metres and not be a wasted opportunity.
The legislation will likely come into effect in autumn 2021 and proposes changes that will improve building and fire safety in all multi-occupancy, high-rise residential buildings. The new rules will apply when these buildings are designed and constructed, and then later occupied. It will see the recruitment of a chief inspector of buildings who will lead the newly-created Building Safety Regulator, set up within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to enforce a new, more rigorous building safety system. The Building Safety Bill also promises to regulate construction materials and products.
The Grenfell tragedy focused national and international attention on the fire safety of tower blocks but it also raised significant questions of the entire built environment. Whilst the bill will focus initially on high-rise residential buildings the risk of loss of life and property inherent in many other buildings types is also too high.
The BSA welcomes the Building Safety Bill. It is long overdue, but we applaud the general intention to make the regulation clearer and more effective. The emphasis on accountability, enforcement powers, industry competence and critical products will go a long way to address gaps that we have highlighted over time.
However, while we recognise that high-rise residential buildings must be the first priority, this initiative to overhaul our national approach to fire safety should also consider the outcomes we expect from buildings in the face of fire. Therefore, we also urge the government to use this opportunity to ensure that the scope of Regulation and the Regulator’s ambit to situations which pose a significant risk to life or to firefighters’ safety or where a fire would cause the loss of a community asset or impact the nation’s economic wellbeing. Doing so will ensure that the legislation delivers a built environment that is safe, sustainable and resilient in the face of fire.