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The Building Safety Bill: Realising Accountability for All Parties

30 September 2020

THE RECENT publication of the Government’s draft Building Safety Bill confirms its commitment to putting safety at the heart of all future building design and development. Here, Ges Wallace discusses the document and what it could mean for the future of our built environment.

The Building Safety Bill is designed to ensure that building safety is taken seriously and managed effectively throughout a building’s life.  Importantly, it also addresses the question of accountability, bringing clarity to an area that has enabled either poor or negligent practice to go unnoticed in the past.

In essence, the aim of the draft Building Safety Bill is to create a comprehensive set of rules which will give people living in high-rise buildings more confidence such that they will be (and feel) safer in their homes.

The much-needed reforms to the regulations around building safety were prompted by Dame Judith Hackitt in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety that followed in the wake of the tragic fire that engulfed London’s Grenfell Tower in 2017. Dame Judith’s review concluded how the whole system needed major reform, and that residents’ safety had to be a greater priority through the entire lifecycle of a building – from design and construction through to when people are living in their homes.

The Government accepted the Hackitt Review’s recommendations and the draft Building Safety Bill, alongside the Fire Safety Bill and the parallel fire safety consultation, sets out a firm ambition to drive through the most significant improvements to building safety in nearly four decades.

Next steps

After a period of consultation and scrutiny, the Bill will be introduced to Parliament where it will be examined by a Parliamentary Committee, the members of which will report with feedback and recommendations before the it’s eventually finalised. The Building Safety Bill will then have to pass through all further stages in Parliament before being presented to Her Majesty The Queen for her formal agreement. Following this, it will then become an Act and the powers enshrined within will come into force.

The draft Bill will ensure that there will always be someone, known as the ‘Accountable Person’, who’ll be responsible for keeping all residents safe in high-rise buildings. They will also have to listen (and respond) to residents’ concerns and ensure their voices are heard.

Residents and leaseholders will have access to vital safety information about their building, while new complaints handling requirements will be introduced to make sure effective action is taken when concerns are raised.

To make sure that ‘Accountable Persons’ are carrying out their duties properly, the Bill proposes a new national regulator for building safety. The new regulator will sit within the Health and Safety Executive and have designated powers to raise and enforce higher standards of safety and performance across all buildings. They will also appoint a panel of residents who will have a voice in the development of the regulator’s work.

The regulator will have three main functions: to oversee the safety and standards of all buildings, directly assure the safety of higher-risk buildings and improve the competence of people responsible for managing and overseeing building work.

There will be a new and more stringent set of rules for high-rise residential buildings. The new set of rules, contained in the draft Bill, will apply when buildings are designed, constructed and then occupied. At each of these three stages, it will be clear who’s responsible for managing the potential risks and what’s required to move to the next stage, enabling a ‘golden thread’ of vital information about the building to be gathered over its lifetime.

Best Practice procedures

This thorough investigation of what Best Practice looks like will serve as a benchmark for all multi-storey buildings, whether they’re schools, hospitals, offices, museums, cinemas or hotels. This will provide a clear framework for understanding and eliminating risk for building users, from when the building is designed through to how all kinds of people are managed safely around the building across its lifetime.

Consideration should be given to all building users, whatever their needs or abilities, and it should be clear at all times who’s responsible for their safety, and also what they need to do in an emergency situation.

The Hackitt Review, along with associated planned reforms to fire and building safety, should go a long way towards making the safety of all a part of the culture and language in discussions around keeping people safe. This will not only mitigate risk for those who design, build and operate multi-storey buildings, but also actively lessen the risks involved for those with disabilities or impaired mobility.

Ges Wallace is Managing Director at Evac+Chair International