The Building Safety Bill explained
As the former Chairman of the London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority, I recall being guided through the burnt-out corridors of Grenfell Tower a week after the blaze.
What I saw there was sobering, to say the least – and its why I have focused my attention on reforms to building and fire rules in Parliament.
In the Queen’s Speech, the Government announced plans to bring forward the Building Safety Bill. This law would strengthen the regulatory system; change the industry culture; introduce rigorous safety standards; and provide a clearer path to redress for homeowners.
Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding was found by the Grenfell Inquiry to have been the ‘primary cause of fire spread’. The Government have therefore sought to remove this from all high-rise buildings with a £5 billion remediation fund.
Additional safety measures have also been announced since, such as the installation of sprinkler systems in all new blocks of high-rise buildings over 11 metres.
According to figures published in March this year, 92% – that is, 431 identified buildings – have either been completed or had remediation work started since 2018. This is encouraging.
Consultation by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has already helped to unlock the housing market by issuing guidance on when certain regulatory checks may or may not be needed. This has enabled valuers and lenders to proceed with transactions so that residents who were previously unable to sell their properties can now look to move on.
Given personal interest from affected leaseholders across Orpington living in buildings below 18 metres, raising financial protections up the political agenda has been an issue which has occupied much of my time in Parliament.
The Building Safety Bill can now only be introduced because its predecessor, the Fire Safety Bill, has become law. Its aim was only ever to clarify clarifying responsibility for managing and reducing the risk of fire for buildings such as flats.
The Fire Safety Act is an essential precursor to that will be a much more substantial piece of legislation, which will create a new regulator with a system of accountable persons and duty holders and establish a new homes ombudsman.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards will have its powers strengthened and this will ensure that building materials are held to the strictest safety checks before being used in construction.
Crucially, the Bill will also implement policy recommendations following the independent Hackett Review and, in order to help meet remediation costs, a new tax on the residential property development sector has been announced and is expected to raise at least a further £2 billion.