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20-07-20

NFCC calls for draft Building Safety Bill to be strengthened

National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Roy Wilsher has stated that Fire Chiefs will be taking the opportunity throughout the coming weeks and months to feedback on building safety plans laid out by the Government today.  Proposals released included publication of the draft Building Safety Bill from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Mr Wilsher noted: “We are pleased the critical milestone of the publication of this draft Bill has been reached. This marks important progress towards addressing the failings seen at Grenfell Tower. We welcome that the draft Bill will be going through pre-legislative scrutiny as there are some key areas where we are concerned the Bill may not achieve the policy intent.

"We will be fully committed to  engaging with the process to ensure our concerns are considered and taken on board by Government to ensure the final Bill is robust”.

“One of the key findings from the Independent Review was that non-worsening provisions under section 4(3) of the Building Regulations seriously limit the scope of the law to improve fire safety in existing buildings”.

Mr Wilsher added. “When Dame Judith was asked to set out timely recommendations in the 2017 interim report, the purpose was to ensure failings could be addressed quickly. Principal amongst these was the concerns over section 4(3). More than three years on from Grenfell, non-worsening is not being properly tackled.

"We understand concerns about the feasibility of improved retrospective implementation on existing building stock, however these arguments fail to recognise or examine available examples of how to manage this, which are already basic standards of fire safety in the regulations of other countries."

Following the six tragic deaths in Lakanal House in 2009, significant refurbishments to the building were undertaken including a conversion to the top floor, which was intended to be sold off.

Despite these investments and cost off-setting, nobody could compel the owners to install sprinkler systems at a marginal cost to the project, because non-worsening provisions prevented regulators from being able to require this. This was despite of the Lakanal Coroner’s recommendations, who also observed that refurbishments carried out in 2006/7 provided numerous opportunities to consider whether the level of fire protection was adequate.

The Bill must ensure that conditions placed on safety case reports are given the footing in primary legislation to override section 4(3) of the regulations.

“If safety cases don’t have the power to improve situations like the one at Lakanal, then we’re not clear what powers they will give the Building Safety Regulator over and above the existing system” said Mark Hardingham, Chair of the NFCC’s Protection and Business Safety Committee.

He added; "We believe that during a change of use, or major refurbishment, a cost benefit analysis should be undertaken towards reasonable safety improvements. This could be balanced against the overall value of any project, as is already the legal test in other jurisdictions. We believe this was the intent of safety cases. However as drafted, we’re concerned the Bill may not achieve this, in which case safety cases would provide little more than what we already have.”

Notes:

 Proposals issued this week by Government include:

MHCLG Draft Building Safety Bill, including proposals for:

  • The Building Safety Regulator and its function
  • Building control authorities
  • Accountable Persons
  • Building Safety Managers
  • Safety case reports

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