Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has announced new measures to reform the building safety system to keep residents safe in their homes.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has announced new measures to reform the building safety regulations with ‘the biggest changes in a generation’.
These include mandatory sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage in all new high-rise blocks of flats over 11 metres tall.
David Hancock, the government’s construction expert, has also been appointed to review progress on the removal of unsafe ACM cladding from buildings.
The reforms are designed to incentivise compliance and to better enable the use of enforcement powers and sanctions – including prosecution where the rules are not followed.
Jenrick will hold a round table with mortgage lenders to work on an agreed approach to mortgage valuations for properties in buildings under 18 metres tall, providing certainty for owners affected by vital building safety work.
He said: “The government is bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation. We have made a major step towards this by publishing our response to the Building a Safer Future consultation. This new regime will put residents’ safety at its heart, and follows the announcement of the unprecedented £1 billion fund for removing unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings in the Budget.
“We are also announcing that the housing industry is designing a website so lenders and leaseholders can access the information needed to proceed with sales and remortgaging, and the government stands ready to help to ensure this work is completed at pace.
“Building safety is a priority and the government is supporting industry in ensuring homes are safe at this difficult time,” he said.
The measures build on other recent government announcements.
- £1 billion would be provided in 2020/21 to support the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding materials on high-rise buildings. This is in addition to the £600 million already available for remediation of high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding.
- The naming of building owners who have been slow to act in removing unsafe ACM cladding.
- The fire safety bill was introduced – constituting a further step in delivering the recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry’s phase one report.
The latest non-ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding testing results have also been published and show that none of the materials, including high-pressure laminate (HPL) and timber cladding, behaved in the same way as ACM.
The government is making it clear that any unsafe materials should quickly be removed from buildings. External wall systems on high-rise buildings using class C or D HPL panels are unsafe and should be removed, as they do not comply with building regulations.
The government said it recognises the challenges that Covid-19 presents to the building industry, but maintains that work to remove unsafe cladding from buildings is critical to public safety and so remains a top priority.
It is supporting building owners, managers and residents to guarantee that remediation work continues where it is safe to do so. The government has also made clear that vital maintenance and repair work can carry on in line with public health guidance.
Step in the right direction
But others, such as the Local Government Association (LGA), say that the government’s forthcoming fire safety bill must be backed with effective powers and sanctions to be truly effective.
On 20 March the government published a bill placing the legal onus on residential building owners to inspect cladding and fire doors. The government said this builds on action already taken “to ensure that people feel safe in their homes, and a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire never happens again”.
The bill would provide “a foundation for secondary legislation to take forward recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report, which states that building owners and managers of high-rise and multi-occupied residential buildings should be responsible for a number of areas”. These include:
- Regular inspections of lifts to be made and the results reported to the local fire and rescue services.
- Evacuation plans should be reviewed and regularly updated and personal evacuation plans must be put in place for residents whose ability to evacuate may be compromised.
- Fire safety instructions must be provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand.
- It should be ensured that individual flat entrance doors, where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding, comply with current standards.
Lord Porter, the association’s building safety spokesman, said: “The LGA has been calling for councils and fire services to be given effective powers and meaningful sanctions to ensure residents are safe – and feel safe – in their homes.
“This bill is an important step in the right direction.
“While councils are leading local efforts to support communities through the coronavirus crisis, the risk to residents in buildings with dangerous cladding systems remains.
“This bill is a positive step but needs to be backed up by further effective powers and sanctions, which we have been promised in the forthcoming building safety bill, and sufficient funding to carry out the necessary inspections and enforcement activity.”
Works during the pandemic
Separately, a joint pledge was made between government and mayors of large regions to continue vital building safety work during the pandemic.
Earlier this year the government announced a new £1 billion fund to pay for the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding for high-rise blocks.
Replacement of such cladding will continue during the Covid-19 emergency, following a commitment from local leaders to housing secretary Robert Jenrick MP.
The mayors of Greater Manchester, Sheffield City Region, London, Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands have pledged their commitment to ensuring that vital safety work can continue where necessary social distancing rules are being followed. This action is to reassure those living in high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding that work to make their homes safe will be prioritised.
The pledge sets out a commitment to improve the safety of residential blocks while also ensuring that those working on-site are given clear information and support to guarantee their own safety as well as limiting the spread of Covid-19.
A number of sites across the country have been leading the way, adapting their procedures to include:
- having decontamination areas on site, enabling workers to hose down overalls before safe disposal;
- providing additional toilet and washing facilities, reducing the number of workers gathering together; and
- splitting up work teams to minimise risk of infection.
- Councillor Peter John, chair of London Councils, said: “We cannot allow the unprecedented challenge that we have all faced with Covid-19 as an excuse to forget the challenge of making our buildings fire-safe.
“The government has provided sector specific guidance on how to apply social distancing in the workplace in England. This was also reviewed by Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive and includes updated guidance for construction workers making clear that ‘work on-site can continue if done in accordance with the social distancing guidelines wherever possible’.”