BEJ: The Building Safety Bill was amended a lot before it was enacted, and some built environment professionals now think it's only about cladding remediation. Do you think the government can help by providing guidance and information?
Peter Baker: The government and we at the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) will be providing support and help for the industry sectors that are going to be affected by the requirements of the Building Safety Act 2022. The legislation is quite complex, and includes a whole range of new measures.
Clearly, the focus for the BSR is on the safety of high-rise residential buildings (HRBs), following the Grenfell Tower fire. But the act also introduces a construction products regulator, new ombudsman arrangements, and protection for leaseholders from cladding remediation costs.
It's also worth remembering that oversight of HRBs is only one function of the BSR. We will also be responsible for promoting competence across the built environment, supervising the safety system for all buildings, and overseeing the building control profession. So while the legislation began with the safety of HRBs in mind, the 2022 Act has gone much further in trying to improve safety and standards across the entire built environment.
BEJ: The act retains the requirements for a principal designer and principal contractor, and BSI is working on standards PAS 8671 and PAS 8672 respectively to ensure their competence. But there is no equivalent PAS for building control professionals, and this seems to be a big gap. How do you think you will address that?
PB: Our role in overseeing the building control profession will require building control approvers – currently called approved inspectors – to register with the BSR. All building control inspectors, whether in the private or public sector, will also need to register. We're working with local authorities and the private sector to develop standards and a competency framework to regulate the profession.
BEJ: The bill was also going to introduce the role of building safety manager; but this requirement was withdrawn, which was a bit of a surprise. What effect will this have?
PB: The absence of a section in the act requiring a building safety manager doesn't mean that the need for someone to manage building safety on a day-to-day basis has gone away.
Landlords and building owners will be accountable persons (APs) – that is, the statutory duty-holders – and they will still need to have access to expertise and competent people in their organisations to help them manage their risks. What the act effectively does by removing the formal requirement for a building safety manager is to give owners more flexibility over the way buildings are managed day to day.
BEJ: How do you see guidance and training for those taking on this new role of APs? Is that something the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will provide?
PB: There will be two strands to this. One is – as many of your members will know – the ongoing work by industry to develop frameworks that set out minimum standards of competence for individuals and organisations managing building safety.
Second, as the BSR we established an interim competence committee that will become statutory now that the act has received royal assent. We will be playing an increasingly pivotal role in the development of competency standards, which is part of our statutory role in encouraging competency across the built environment.
But we will still expect – as we do in relation to workplace health and safety – that industry will continue to take a lead in the design of standards for competency and, more importantly, set out how these will be effectively implemented across all the key building safety roles.
BEJ: Do you have any expectations about how long it will take the construction industry to adjust to the various new provisions?
PB: The Grenfell Tower fire was five years ago, so my expectation is that the industry should be well on its way already. I've seen lots of good practice, both in the private and in the social housing sectors, with organisations getting to grips with cladding and other risks. Many have started to manage their buildings in a way that I expect them to be managed when the new regulatory framework is in place. But others are still well behind the curve.
As more detail of the new regime emerges over the next 12 months, the industry needs to be prepared. This is a message I've been emphasising since I was appointed in February 2021. There isn't very much time: built environment professionals have got to start gearing themselves up, collaborating and sharing all that good practice.
BEJ: You've been holding various round tables with built environment stakeholders to prepare them for the new regime. Will you continue with these through the implementation period?
PB: We are going to continue with a range of activity over the coming months to engage with stakeholders, particularly those who will have duties under the new legislation. We will work with them on the practicalities of implementing what will be a significant change in the way buildings are constructed, designed and managed in occupation.
BEJ: Do you think the act will change the culture of the construction industry, as Dame Judith Hackitt called for in her review of the Building Regulations and fire safety?
PB: The whole remit of the 2022 Act is to ensure safe buildings, but that requires a significant cultural shift in the industry. The new legislative framework will require a major change in the performance, attitude, competence and behaviour of all parties, whether they're clients, designers, contractors, developers or building owners.
Of course, the legislation only sets the minimum standards. I know from my 30-plus years of regulating workplace health and safety that industry and professionals have got to step up as well. They can't just wait and expect the government and regulators to tell them what to do.
For the new regime to succeed, the industry has to be clear that the current position is unacceptable. It needs to set out a vision for the future and prepare a roadmap to get there. Part of my conversation with professionals over the coming months is going to focus on these – preparing the industry for the legislation, but also encouraging it to take a lead in changing the culture.
BEJ: How in particular do you think we will change the construction culture of the lowest price meaning the lowest quality?
PB: It's got to be a multi-stranded approach. The legislation is setting the minimum level of expectation, which will clearly have an impact. The secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, Michael Gove, is intervening to correct the behaviour of the industry and get particular problems fixed faster. But I also see the industry playing a key role in setting out its own expectations and standards to improve building safety.
I look back to my time with HSE in the early 2000s when the construction industry was seeing high levels of workplace death, injury and ill health. Along with the regulator and the government, the industry stepped up to set out some clear aspirations over 15–20 years, and held itself to account during that period. The Grenfell Tower tragedy requires a similar response, with the industry setting a vision for its future culture and performance, as well as some clear milestones for the journey.
This isn't going to happen overnight. But I have seen some very positive steps, particularly measures such as the Building a Safer Future Charter, to which RICS is signed up. That sets out some helpful principles, and indicates a willingness for change. I think there's much more to do, though, and the industry will be instrumental in making necessary progress.
BEJ: But as almost everything in the industry is subcontracted, often for the lowest price and with low levels of competence, the overall quality of projects is lacking. How will you change that?
PB: I am often asked how I, as the chief inspector of buildings, am going to change the way industry works. Well, I and the BSR can do our bit by engaging with the industry. The BSR, local authorities and fire and rescue services will also be able to take appropriate enforcement action against businesses and industry sectors when we have the tools to do so.
But what is the construction industry itself going to do about it? This isn't about the regulator. The regulator can only do so much, as can government. So I would ask you the question. What is RICS going to do to eliminate the practices that have resulted in the present situation?
It comes down to the industry taking a hard look at itself and starting to think about how it needs to change its behaviour and culture.
BEJ: RICS will continue to call out poor practice, and collaborate with industry to drive out these issues. Risk management is another major issue in construction. We know the bigger contractors and developers are getting better at it because they have been found out – one example being Persimmon Homes with issues of poor quality regarding cavity barriers. However, we also know poor practice still persists. What can you do as the BSR to stop this? Will you make random visits to spot-check construction sites, for instance?
PB: The framework we're going to introduce aims to regulate risk management throughout the life cycle of a building. We are already a statutory consultee on planning applications for HRBs, the principle behind this being to get developers thinking about fire safety in particular at the earliest stages. It's a lot easier to manage risk at this point than it is to try to retrofit measures further down the line.
It is disappointing, though, that since the start of this year alone, the planning gateway one process that HSE introduced in August 2021 has raised fire safety concerns on more than half the building designs put forward.
So you've got to look at the regulatory framework holistically and what it's trying to achieve. The gateway process at the construction and commissioning phase aims to get developers and contractors to eliminate the building safety risks as early as possible.
They will need to demonstrate to the BSR not just what they're going to build and that it will be safe, but also how they're going to go about it. They will need to show that their design and build processes will ensure safety and quality.
We will – as the BSR and the building control body for higher-risk buildings – carry out site inspections. We will not only check compliance with the Building Regulations, but also that plans are being implemented in the way intended, and that there are arrangements for managing the inevitable changes that happen during the life of a contract.
Similarly, the legislation introduces a safety case certification regime for the occupation phase, which is based on the approach used in major hazard industries such as oil and gas, and chemicals. This requires the building owner to demonstrate that they understand the risks, that they've looked properly at the serious fire and structural vulnerabilities of their building, and they've got a plan to deal with them over its life cycle. That will be subject to BSR intervention.
There will also be follow-on inspections, which will be prioritised according to risk. We will obtain a lot of information about a duty-holder's ability to manage risk from the safety case assessment, which will then inform our inspection programme for that particular building, or indeed that particular duty-holder.
BEJ: Thanks, Peter. Before we finish, what do you think is the most important thing for the industry to bear in mind?
PB: The final thing is – and this is something I emphasised in my presentation at this year's RICS Building Surveying Conference – that stakeholders should be aware the Building Safety Bill is now an Act. The next 12 months are going to be an important transition period for everybody to prepare for the new regime.
We're expecting the first requirements – building registration and the building control competency frameworks – to be launched in April 2023, with the responsibilities and duties on accountable persons and the role of principal designer and principal contractor to be introduced in October 2023. The safety cases will follow six months after that.
A lot is going to happen over the next the next 12 to 18 months, and getting ready for this new regime should be the priority for everybody involved. We will of course continue our dialogue with RICS, as a key stakeholder.
RICS global building standards director Gary Strong comments: 'We continue to work closely with the HSE and the new BSR to ensure that RICS, regulated firms and members are aware of the requirements of the Building Safety Act 2022. We have an online information centre about the act, with FAQs, where we regularly post updates.'