Sunset viewed through an apartment or home window
The UK government proposals – alongside the publication of the Fire Safety Bill, which are both currently at the draft stage – should ensure that this country never allows a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire to occur again. RICS hopes that these new measures, described as a once-in-a-generation change, will be implemented at pace.
As part of the Bill, the introduction of a new Building Safety Regulator, and a heavy emphasis on a general duty on everyone, as well as competence through the Committee on industry competence, is a step change. The Bill will also bring a wider range of construction projects within the new regulatory function, including products regulation, giving the government increased powers.
RICS has worked extensively over the past few months with the Future of Building Control group to make firm recommendations on the regulatory system going forward, and we urge consistency across the devolved nations of the UK, as fires and building safety know no geographical or political boundaries.
We do, however, have concerns that while there is an understandable focus by the government on high risk buildings, the Bill will create a two-tier system of regulation, especially when low rise buildings can create risk depending on the nature of occupancy.
We are pleased that the relevant competence of those involved in design, construction and management of high risk buildings will be a focus for the government through this Bill, and that this will also come under the new regulatory system. The very fabric of our society relies on safe buildings, and those involved should be appropriately qualified.
The new proposal for the role of building safety manager, taken together with an accountable person responsible for the overall safety of a building, will also add to safety, and see consistency in standards going forward. This is something that RICS consistently pushed for in the work groups that led to the Dame Judith Hackitt final report Building a Safer Future. It is not without its challenges, though. Industry will need to fill skills gaps in these areas, as at the current time it does not have enough qualified individuals to fill these roles. Training and recruitment need to be on the government's to-do list, and a recruitment drive will be difficult without the requisite availability and affordability of PII.
The safety case of information as a single repository of information about a building, and the three new gateways will ensure that developers proposals and construction are soon given the extra detailed scrutiny and sign-off which has often been overlooked in the past. All those involved will have access to the building information they need, including the construction products, which is a necessity.
Industry has stepped up voluntarily in many ways since Grenfell, however, every stakeholder involved in designing, constructing and managing buildings must adhere to the fundamental principles of building and fire safety competency, ethics, and wanting to do the right thing in the public interest, and not view costs as the main driver.
While industry has much to do, residents’ voices are also key to delivering safe buildings, and we believe that Dame Judith Hackitt was right to recommend an enhancement in this area. Persons living in buildings will know quickly if something is wrong, and it is correct to arm them with the new powers within the Bill, including holding building owners to account.
The appointment of Michael Wade to work with leaseholders and the finance and insurance industries to recommend funding to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs of fixing historic defects, and to address insurance issues around building safety, chimes with consistent calls from RICS.
The draft Bill includes a new building safety charge to give leaseholders greater transparency around costs incurred in maintaining a safe building – with numerous powers deliberately included to limit the costs that can be re-charged to leaseholders. However, this proposal is already proving controversial.
RICS looks forward to working with the government and industry to shape the Bill over the summer and autumn during this pre-legislative scrutiny period, before it is introduced to parliament. It is important that the industry and government work collaboratively on their various component parts to improve the bill and ensure safety.