Government “could strengthen intent” of Building Safety Bill
09 March 2022
THE ASSOCIATION for Project Safety (APS) firmly believes that the Government “could strengthen the intent” of the Building Safety Bill by placing greater emphasis on all building safety risks right from the outset. According to the APS, the Government could do this by inserting a new clause in the Bill that expressly requires building safety risks to be assessed and managed. This would be a requirement of the designers of all building work in accordance with the same principles of prevention being mandated for the occupation phase of high-rise residential buildings.
The APS fully supports moves designed to ensure residents are safe in their own homes. On that basis, the organisation is keen to see people plan and build better homes in the first instance. Where there are any proven failures to observe the rules, those responsible must be held to account.
Further, the APS has put forward several suggestions for changes to improve the proposed legislation [and secondary regulations] for residents, other users, Government and the construction industry. The APS wants to see ‘safety up front’ with building safety made an explicit requirement in the Building Safety Bill. There’s also a desire to deliver Government-backed professional indemnity insurance and clarify the principal designer roles.
APS president Jonathan Moulam informed Fire Safety Matters: “As it stands, the Building Safety Bill represents something of a wasted opportunity when it comes to making the built environment safer for everyone. The concentration on structural fire risk replays a disaster that should never have happened without looking ahead to how safety can be improved more generally.”
Moulam continued: “In its current state, the Building Safety Bill creates dangers of its own and is likely to make homes less affordable, while also pushing small firms out of business. Potential costs could make the existing skills crisis worse. Around 70% of those operating in the construction sector work for small businesses or on their own. They could well just give up if there are problems in obtaining or affording professional indemnity insurance.”
Further, Moulam observed: “There is still time to strengthen the proposed new law to put safety at the heart of any new building or project. The APS believes that safety can be placed front and centre if Government makes it a duty for any building covered by the Building Safety Bill to be safe both to build and when in use. The Government should consider backing special underwriting provisions – such as it did for home insurance in Northern Ireland or for homes in areas prone to flooding – such that household premiums can be kept to an affordable level. We support the Construction Industry Council and our colleagues across the construction sector in raising concerns over this matter.”
Building safety risks
If the management of building safety risk were to be made an explicit requirement of the Building Safety Bill, this would ensure that residents will not be forced to bear the costs of managing building safety risks that could have been avoided, or otherwise reduced, during design or building works.
The ASP believes this simple change would render a ‘second Grenfell Tower’ less likely by removing any possible confusion over responsibility. Projects would be cheaper as safety would be fully costed from the outset and residents would be financially better off. Just now, asserts the ASP, it’s a case of ‘build in haste and repent at leisure’ with residents bearing more of the cost of putting things right where bad or cheap choices are made at the outset.
The current version of the Building Safety Bill would allow developers to choose and install fire alarm systems and emergency lighting that may be inherently less safe and require physical testing with all of the costs that implies as well as all of the associated risks (such as tests not being done) rather than deploying self-testing systems that can be remotely monitored. Only the minimum requirements would be met. Residents would face hidden costs (ie management, maintenance or early replacement costs) where minimum standard systems are used in comparison to those that cost more on an initial basis.
Insuring the future
The APS supports the desire of legislators to ensure that companies pay for the adverse impact their failures to meet the requirements of the law have on the lives of people living in buildings over four storeys in height.
It’s the view of the APS that the Government should consider putting in place special underwriting provisions – such as they did for home insurance in Northern Ireland or for homes in areas prone to flooding – such that household premiums can be kept to an affordable level.
The requirement for compensation to paid out for up to 30 years for existing properties, and 15 years for new flats [Clause 128], could have unforeseen consequences. These include the proposed new roles being uninsurable or deliverable only by a few large companies able to obtain the required cover; and developers suing their supply chain in order to recover costs. Prices would go up for everyone. Residents and homeowners would see costs being passed on to them in higher rents or purchase prices, the construction industry could face significantly increased premiums and professional indemnity insurers would pass on the increased costs that reflect the greater risk they face.
Brokers are saying that professional indemnity insurance is likely to increase in cost by around 40%-50% per annum. One ASP member’s premium has risen in cost from around £2,000 to £9,000.
The ASP feels that requirements for continuing insurance are out of step with other construction professionals. For example, architects in England must only maintain professional indemnity insurance for five years after retirement.
The Government could fail to meet its targets for affordable new homes as the construction sector may avoid building flats. Low-rise homes will reduce the number of available homes being built. What homes are available will increase in price to compensate for the reduced density.
Greater clarity over the principal designer duty holder role would ensure that the ‘waters of responsibility’ are not muddied. Only the duty holder responsible for adherence to the Building Regulations and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations would be necessary. The APS notes that, in effect, the current proposed legislation is creating two principal designer roles, with each having separate responsibilities for construction design and management and for adherence to the Building Regulations.
There would be cost savings for residents and Government by streamlining responsibilities with one duty holder responsible for safety.