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Government unveils “biggest building safety intervention to date”

31 July 2023

THE GOVERNMENT has unveiled the detail behind its biggest building safety intervention to date as part of a wider package of measures designed to help in bringing to an end the building safety crisis across England.

The full opening of the Cladding Safety Scheme (CSS), announced in a speech by Housing Secretary Michael Gove, means that costs associated with removing unsafe cladding in mid-rise buildings will now be covered by Government funding, in turn protecting leaseholders from costs where the responsible developer cannot be made to pay.

It's estimated that thousands more mid-rise buildings will qualify, giving tens of thousands of residents across England a pathway towards a safe home, with no cost whatsoever to leaseholders in the building.

The CSS will be funded by both the £5.1 billion allocated by Government to fix the most dangerous buildings and through revenue from the Building Safety Levy on new developments.

The scheme will be available to all medium-rise buildings between 11 and 18 metres tall across England and high-rise buildings over 18 metres outside of London where fire safety professionals have recommended that works must take place. The scheme will also be available to the social housing sector.

All building owners who believe they are eligible for funding need to apply through the Homes England Cladding Safety Scheme application portal. Any leaseholders or residents living in a building they think is eligible for funding will be able to provide further information about their building using Homes England’s ‘Tell Us’ tool.

Important step

Peter Denton, CEO of Homes England, said: “The Cladding Safety Scheme pilot was an important step in removing the cost burden on leaseholders trapped in unsafe homes and built on the progress made on building safety. The full roll-out of the programme allows us to go even further. Our team is ready to go, and we expect thousands of buildings to benefit across the next decade.”

Denton added: “We will continue to work with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure the pace we’re working at is maintained such that we can bring peace of mind and protection to the millions of people whose lives have been affected by unsafe cladding.”

The opening of the CSS means that the costs of fixing dangerous cladding for all buildings in England over 11 metres will now be covered either by Government funding or by those developers who built them.

Recently, the Secretary of State secured the signatures of 48 of the country’s biggest housebuilders on the developer remediation contract. The developers all put pen to paper on the legally binding document and committed themselves to fix unsafe buildings they developed or refurbished in England over the 30 years leading to 5 April 2022.

The Government has now written to eligible developers to invite them to join the Responsible Actors Scheme, giving them 60 days to respond. Eligible developers who choose not to join, or who join the Responsible Actors Scheme but then renege on their commitments, will be prohibited from carrying out major development or obtaining building control approvals.

While funding is a major part of solving the building safety crisis, it’s also important that residents witness swift progress once work has been deemed necessary. The Government has been abundantly clear that there’s no excuse for unsafe cladding to be left unmanaged. Building owners must meet their legal obligations to fix fire safety defects in their buildings and make homes safe.

Joint statement

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Building Safety Regulator, the Local Government Association and the National Fire Chiefs Council have issued a joint statement committing to work together in order to enforce the remediation of fire safety defects, which underlines their commitment to see buildings made safe faster.

Building owners who continue to stall can expect to face robust enforcement action from regulators, with the full weight of Government behind them.

The Greater London Authority will continue to deliver remediation to London-based buildings of 18 metres tall and above through the Building Safety Fund.

Buildings in England already progressing through the Building Safety Fund will not be transferred into the new CSS. Their progress will remain unaffected.

Second staircase

The Government has also confirmed the intention to mandate second staircases in new residential buildings taller than 18 metres in height following confirmation from expert bodies that they support this threshold.

This decision responds directly to the call from the sector for coherence and certainty and is described as a considered and gradual evolution of safety standards  which, when taken together with other fire safety measures and reforms ensures the safety of people in all tall buildings (both new and existing).

The Government is clear that this new regulation cannot jeopardise the supply of homes by disrupting schemes that have been planned for years. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will work rapidly with industry and regulators over the summer to design transitional arrangements with the aim of securing the viability of projects already underway, avoiding delays wherever there are other more appropriate mitigations.

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has reacted to the welcome news from Michael Gove that all buildings above 18 metres tall must have a secondary staircase to improve fire safety.

Eddie Tuttle (director of policy, external affairs and research at the CIOB) affirmed: “The safety of residents and Emergency Services workers is paramount and can never be understated. We have always believed the proposal to mandate secondary staircases for buildings over 18 metres tall to be the best solution as it provides a more comprehensive strategy in ensuring all high-risk buildings have more than one means of a safe entrance and exit. Not only does it make exiting buildings in the event of an emergency far easier, but it also allows Emergency Services workers to avoid interruption.”

Tuttle concluded: “The CIOB is delighted the Government has listened to our feedback, together with that offered by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Royal Institute of British Architects. We hope that the Government will continue to listen to our expertise throughout the remaining lifetime of the evolving Building Safety Act and its secondary legislation.”

Removing the risk

Incorporating multiple staircases will enhance the safety of both residents and firefighters. A second staircase will help to ensure that, in the event of a fire, the second staircase removes the risk of a single point of failure, buys critical time for firefighting activities and provides residents with multiple escape routes.

In Scotland, buildings above 18 metres in height are already required to have multiple staircases. This latest announcement from Westminster will engender greater consistency across the UK, as well as bringing England into line with many countries across Europe, Australasia and North America.   

For its part, the National Fire Chiefs Council is actively engaged with central Government on various review procedures, including the ongoing review of Approved Document B.