Building a Safer Future: total regulatory reform – are we ready?
06 July 2020
Posted by: Leanne Sparkes
Rebecca Rees, Partner at Trowers & Hamlins takes a look.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has indicated that a new Building Safety Bill will be tabled before the summer recess, with the new regime taking effect in Autumn 2021.
The Government currently proposes that the new regime will cover all multi-occupied residential buildings of more than six storeys or 18 metres, whichever measurement is reached first. The scope will be extended in due course to other types of tenanted buildings, based on emerging risk evidence. While these aren't named, we know from last year's consultation that the Government is eyeing other non-residential buildings where people sleep, including schools, hospitals and prisons.
Given the publication of the MHCLG response, and despite the current difficulties presented by the COVID-19 outbreak, public- and private-sector landlords of High Rise Residential Buildings (HRRBs) need to continue their work in addressing the fire and building safety regime. This is not insignificant and the requirements are set out this far in the findings of Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Fire Safety Bill and the 53 recommendations put forward by Dame Judith Hackitt in her Building a Safer Future Report.
This is no small ask. The safety case that underpins the Hackitt recommendations requires new thinking by landlords for HRRBs. Based on the safety case approach more usually found in high risk industries such as civil aviation, nuclear and oil and gas, the new regulatory regime covers all stages of a building: from the design, procurement and construction of a HRRB, to the in-occupation, management and maintenance phase.
Particular difficulties are faced by landlords of HRRBs (particularly those already existing/in occupation) where the safety cases will have to address a diverse population of tenants with a myriad of needs and physical requirements, enjoying different tenures. These are challenges not faced by the more sterile industries that already adopt the safety-case approach: a sensible lead-in period is required in order for the residential sector to meet them.
This multi-dimensional aspect of HRRBs will make the compilation and maintenance of a safety case both complex and expensive. Data will be key and landlords are already seizing the challenge by seeking to address the holes in their relevant data and information, but with the regime being so all-encompassing, there is a risk that certain elements are turned into a tick-box exercise whilst other elements are given greater attention.
A tick-box approach to regulation needs to be avoided at all costs. Hackitt has said that landlords should not wait until legislation and should do everything they can do now to start implementing the recommendations. Given this clarion call, landlords need to consider what they can afford (or indeed, politically, whether nothing should be treated as unaffordable) and how to prioritise the implementation of the Hackitt recommendations now.
Rebecca Rees, Partner at international law firm Trowers & Hamlins co-heads the Public Procurement practice.
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