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15-09-20

Fire Chiefs call for clarifications to draft Building Safety Bill

Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Roy Wilsher has given evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee in response to its Call for Evidence on the draft Building Safety Bill.

Whilst welcoming the significant step forward the draft Bill represents, Mr Wilsher noted some key aspects where fire and rescue services (FRS) remain concerned.

“NFCC have engaged with every FRS in England on the proposals” Mr Wilsher stated “and consistently our members have raised concerns about the overlapping pieces of legislation, particularly the interaction with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO). The proposed new duty holder roles and sanctions are welcome, however, there is still much confusion around how these roles, responsibilities and the sanctions will interact.

“Dame Judith envisaged a simplified regime with a clearly identifiable Accountable Person. The proposed system introduces the possibility for mixed-use buildings to have multiple Accountable Persons and a new Building Safety Manager, on top of the multiple ‘Responsible Persons’ which already exist. NFCC believes that having a lead Accountable Person for a building who would coordinate across these roles would support clarity.”

Further detail is sought on whether leaseholders can escalate concerns to the New Homes Ombudsman as well the Building Safety Regulator and the Housing Ombudsman. It is unclear if residents have access to different bodies depending on where they live. It appears residents in high rise residential buildings can have their concerns heard directly by the new regulator, but residents in buildings under 18 metres may need to refer to the Housing Ombudsman.

Outside of social rented accommodation, our members’ experience shows the complex nature of some ownership structures can cause confusion for residents about who is responsible for the safety of their building. The introduction of multiple APs, in addition to multiple RPs, will add further layers of complexity to what is already a significant challenge.

Dan Daly, head of the NFCC’s Protection Unit stated: “The draft Bill presents an opportunity to address wider building safety issues. We welcome the flexibility provided for the scope to be widened over time. However, we believe the intention to begin with residential buildings of 18 metres could be widened to include care homes within the scope of the Gateways regime from the outset for new builds.

“We are pleased to see that the Bill also introduces a new Residents Panel, but we hold some concerns about costs being passed to leaseholders, and suggest any recharging mechanisms are clearly defined as relating to reasonable maintenance and upkeep costs only.”

Mr Daly continued “there is a unique opportunity to improve the safety of the wider built environment, by addressing the non-worsening provisions in regulation 4(3) highlighted by Dame Judith Hackitt. Regulation 4(3) prevents regulators from being able to require reasonable improvements to safety over time, because it provides that changes can be made on a ‘like for like’ basis.

“We believe a change of use or major refurbishment should trigger a cost/benefit analysis of reasonable life safety improvements balanced against the value of the building works in question. We would like to see an ambition to address this in due course for all buildings.”

Mr Wilsher concluded: “It is important that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations are properly considered and delivered in a way which helps fix the broken system identified by Dame Judith Hackitt and restores the public confidence in fire safety.  The draft Bill is a huge milestone and step in the right direction, and we look forward to further engagement during this period to ensure the legislation is robust.”

Notes:

NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher gave oral evidence to the Select Committee on Monday 14th September to further discuss our response.  

A link to the session can be found here.

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