Key Takeaways: Building Safety Bill and Its Impact on The Built Environment

Windows and balconies on a high rise building

On 5 July 2021, the government published the Building Safety Bill, 12 months after the draft safety bill was released and over four years since the Grenfell Tower fire. The Building Safety Bill hopes to regulate the construction industry and ensure safer housing for every resident in the country. The final Building Safety Bill introduces various measures that aim to promote transparency and accountability in the industry. Let’s look at the new measures introduced in the legislation:

Introduction of the Building Safety Regulator

The Bill introduces the Building Safety Regulator, a new regulatory body to ensure that buildings meet the demands of local fire safety regulations. This regulatory body was first proposed by Dame Judith Hackitt based on her investigation after the Grenfell tragedy. The purpose of this regulatory body is to monitor the fire and safety compliance of buildings and encourage higher competence in the built environment sector.

The Regulator will have the power to ensure that regulations are being met and those not in compliance are held accountable. The Regulator will also maintain three committees to advise on building functions – a resident’s panel, an industry competence committee, and a building advisory committee.

Gateways and The Golden Thread

The Building Safety Bill introduces three gateway points at which a building owner must demonstrate compliance, right from the planning stage of high-rise buildings. At the first gateway, the contractor must submit a planning application with details about the site layout, water supplies for firefighting purposes and access for fire appliances.

The second gateway comes just before the construction begins when building control approval is required from the Building Safety Regulator. To get approval, the constructor needs to provide details on how the proposal is compliant with regulations, along with details about how the golden thread and mandatory occurrence reporting requirements will be met. Any builder who starts without getting this approval can face enforcement actions.

The third gateway needs to be met just before occupation of the building when an application, containing all the details related to how the building meets fire and safety regulations, needs to be submitted to the Building Safety Regulator. The same information must also be handed over to the building owner.

The Building Safety Bill introduces the “Golden Thread” of information for high-rise buildings with the aim of increasing transparency and accountability in the industry. It is a digital record of all the information related to the building, collected throughout the design and construction phases and passed on to the owner and relevant duty holders on completion. This record needs to be maintained throughout the lifecycle of the building.

Construction Products Regulator

The Building Safety Bill introduces the Construction Products Regulator to ensure that building products’ manufacturers are unable to evade proper testing processes as that can lead to harmful after-effects. This was discovered after the Grenfell Tower inquiry when combustible materials were found in the external wall systems of buildings.

According to the Building Safety Bill, this new regulator will function out of the existing Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) and commission its own product testing to investigate non-compliance in the industry.

New Homes Ombudsman

The government announced the creation of a New Homes Ombudsman to control building safety defects in new builds. The aim of this body will be to resolve any problems that arise for new builds and find an effective solution for it. Under the Building Safety Bill, developers of new builds will need to sign up as members of the New Homes Ombudsman. Those who fail to do so will receive additional sanctions. This is expected to come into force within 12 to 18 months of the Bill receiving royal assent.

Dutyholders and Building Safety Managers

The bill introduces dutyholders who will be responsible for the safety of the building at different points throughout its lifecycle. During each gateway in the lifecycle of the building, a different person will be held accountable. For example, the principal designer will be responsible for the design phase and then the principal contractor will look after the construction phase. The government intends the new regulatory regime to be introduced within 12 to 18 months of royal assent.

Additionally, the Bill also refers to the introduction of a Building Safety Manager for buildings that are occupied. This manager will oversee up to 10 buildings and his role will be to assist in the management of the buildings and ensure that they meet all regulations.