Building regulations and fire safety: consultation response and connected issues Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The pace of change since the Grenfell Tower fire

1.The pace of change set by the Government in reforming the building and fire safety regulatory regime has been far too slow. It has been over two years since the fire at Grenfell Tower, and more than a year since the publication of the Final Report of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, and yet the Government has only just published a consultation into its proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system. The Government must pick up the pace of reform, before it is too late and we have another tragedy on the scale of Grenfell Tower. (Paragraph 10)

2.We reiterate the view we expressed last year, that Dame Judith Hackitt was right to call for greater accountability, robust oversight and strengthened sanctions in the new regulatory regime, but that this must be underpinned by strong, prescriptive standards, which are essential if residents are to be kept safe. (Paragraph 13)

3.The Government has already shown its acceptance of the need for some prescription, having implemented a ban on combustible cladding and insulation. It should now go further and require the installation of sprinkler systems in new and existing high-rise and high-risk buildings, including residential buildings, student accommodation and hospitals, where structurally feasible. (Paragraph 15)

4.It is taking far too long to remove and replace potentially dangerous cladding from high-rise and high-risk buildings. The Government should set a realistic, but short, deadline by which time all buildings with any form of dangerous cladding should be fully remediated and indicate when this will be. Government policies and funding mechanisms should work to meet this deadline, while sanctions should follow for building owners who fail to make their buildings safe within a reasonable timeframe. (Paragraph 18)

5.It is clear that concerns extend beyond the ACM cladding used on Grenfell Tower, but buildings with other forms of potentially dangerous cladding have not been given the focus they need. The slow rate of progress in testing potentially dangerous non-ACM cladding systems has been unacceptable and, as noted by Grenfell United, suggests to many a casualness and lack of focus from the Government. (Paragraph 22)

6.The Government must publish the results of its testing process and release full details of all past test results of non-ACM cladding. Residents have the right to know whether the buildings they live in are safe or require urgent remediation. (Paragraph 23)

7.It is welcome that the Government has finally provided funding to meet the costs of replacing unsafe ACM cladding from privately owned high-rise residential buildings, as we called for in July 2018. We fear, however, that £200 million will not be sufficient to fully remediate all affected buildings, and the Government is highly likely to need to provide additional funding. (Paragraph 28)

8.Despite Treasury rules, Ministers were absolutely right to insist that public money should be used to make people’s homes safe. The moral case for intervention has now been firmly established. This should be borne in mind in the context of calls for the extension of the funding to other forms of dangerous cladding. (Paragraph 30)

9.It is questionable whether the use of combustible cladding resulted from failures in the construction or the ambiguity of regulations in Approved Document B, particularly whether the ‘filler’ in ACM was required to be of limited combustibility. As other types of cladding, including High Pressure Laminate (HPL), do not incorporate filler, the Government is duty bound to fund replacement should they also prove to be combustible, whether or not they are considered by the Treasury to be ‘value for money’. (Paragraph 31)

10.We are concerned that funding for remedial works is to be found from existing programme budgets. Notwithstanding the detriment to those budgets, this approach is likely to be unsustainable if the fund is found to be insufficient or is extended to other forms of cladding. The costs of replacing all unsafe cladding should be established and the Treasury should provide this funding to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to fully cover the costs of remediating buildings with unsafe cladding. (Paragraph 33)

11.While we await the publication of the full application guidance, it will need to provide greater clarity on the scope of the funding. In particular, the fund must be flexible enough to cover all ancillary costs associated with remedial works—such as building surveys—and the reasonable costs of any additional essential works that become apparent after remediation has begun. The benefits of the fund would be diminished if high costs were anyway passed on to leaseholders, or if building owners and managing agents refused to participate in the scheme because of perceived financial risks to themselves. (Paragraph 35)

12.There is considerable concern from managing agents that the Government’s definition of who should be responsible for the administration of funding for the remediation of buildings with dangerous cladding could see many managing agents walking away from their buildings due to the significant contractual and financial risks. The Government should clarify that it is the building owner, the freeholder, who should retain full responsibility for remedial works that are to be paid under the Government’s scheme. (Paragraph 38)

13.The Government should confirm that the costs of replacing combustible insulation will also be covered by this fund. It would not be fair to charge leaseholders for the removal of dangerous insulation, while it would be perverse to incentivise building owners to leave it in place due to a lack of funding. (Paragraph 40)

14.The Government is right to argue that leaseholders should not be forced to pay for the remediation of their buildings, but is wrong to only provide support to residents with a specific type of cladding. The Government cannot morally justify funding the replacement of one form of dangerous cladding, but not others. (Paragraph 45)

15.There is an unfortunate feeling of deja vu around the Government’s approach to non-ACM cladding and a sense that they will inevitably end up paying for it after a short period of prevaricating. In the meantime, tens of thousands of affected residents continue to live in potentially dangerous buildings, or have been sent large and distressing bills for remedial works. (Paragraph 46)

16.The Government should fully fund the removal and replacement of any combustible cladding—as defined by the Government’s combustible cladding ban—from any high-rise or high-risk building. The Government should, therefore, immediately extend its fund to cover the removal and replacement of any form of combustible cladding from a high-rise or high-risk building. (Paragraph 47)

17.There will be a considerable cost associated with such a commitment, as well as a sense of unfairness that most freeholders have again failed to do the right thing. However, the safety of residents must be the Government’s primary concern. (Paragraph 48)

18.The response by the Government and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to provide the support and services people affected by the fire need continues to be too slow. Two years on, survivors are still experiencing significant problems with their permanent accommodation. (Paragraph 55)

19.Further, we note that the Government has announced a new fast-track community health service for Grenfell survivors. However, it is apparent that the community are not receiving the standard of health checks that they had expected. The Government should urgently implement a programme to provide comprehensive public health services to survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire and the local community. (Paragraph 56)

20.In the context of concerns around contaminated land in the vicinity of the tower, we welcome the introduction of a programme of comprehensive environmental checks but the Government should have listened to local residents’ concerns and implemented these checks sooner. (Paragraph 57)

Response to the consultation

21.The scope of the new regulatory system should not be determined by height alone. Instead, the new regime should apply to all buildings where there are vulnerable people, while other determinants of risk should also be taken into consideration. While a more complex risk matrix might lack the clarity of a simple height threshold, restricting vital safety measures to buildings above 18 metres in height is inadequate. (Paragraph 65)

22.We acknowledge that the Government intends, over time, to bring more buildings within the scope of the regime. We also heard concerns around the capacity of the industry and regulator to accommodate a wide scope from the very beginning. However, as we have noted earlier in this report, the pace of change in the sector has already been far too slow, and the Government should be ambitious with the scope of the new regime from the outset, setting out timescales to bring different types of buildings within scope. However, as we have noted earlier in this report, the pace of change in the sector has already been far too slow, and the Government should be ambitious with the scope of the new regime from the outset, setting out timescales to bring different types of buildings within scope (Paragraph 66)

23.The Government is right to propose a new dutyholder regime with individually-held responsibilities across the whole life-cycle of a building. However, there are several challenges that will need to be overcome, particularly around the significant levels of personal risk likely to be associated with being an Accountable Person and Building Safety Manager during the occupation phase of a building, particularly as professional freeholders may decide to exit the UK market following the Government’s announcement that future ground rents will have no monetary value. Making these roles attractive to qualified individuals will be vital. It will also be important to ensure that any costs associated with these new roles, which are likely to be passed on to leaseholders, are not excessive. (Paragraph 73)

24.We believe that the Government’s definition for an accountable person is too wide and potentially poses a risk to the viability of many management companies. The Government should clarify that it is the building owner, the freeholder, who should always be the accountable person. Where a freehold has a complex ownership structure, the accountable person should be a board member of the freehold company. (Paragraph 74)

25.The Government is absolutely right to prioritise measures to strengthen the voices of residents concerning building and fire safety. This is one of the most important lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire; that residents must be listened to, their concerns need to be taken seriously, and mechanisms should be in place so residents can escalate their concerns if they do not feel these are being adequately addressed. (Paragraph 79)

26.Residents’ voice is an issue, of course, that goes beyond fire safety and must form a central part of the next Government’s social housing reforms. It is unacceptable that some residents continue to feel that the only way to get their landlords to take their concerns seriously is to seek to embarrass them through social media. We are concerned by the lack of progress around the Social Housing Green Paper since its publication in August last year, and call on the Government to set out a clear timetable for action. (Paragraph 80)

27.We agree with the Government’s proposal to establish a single national building safety regulator, as it is sensible to seek to limit complexity within the system. However, clarification is required as to how the national regulator will operate at the local level. It will be important to ensure that local authorities and fire and rescue authorities continue to play a central role in the new regulatory system, and their influence in local decision making is not diminished. (Paragraph 85)

28.The Government is also right to recommend the implementation of an independent periodic review of the building regulation system. The Government should ensure, however, that residents’ representatives are included in any review of the building regulations, to ensure that the views the public are suitably reflected in any future regulatory regime. (Paragraph 86)

29.The Government is right to establish a tough building safety regulatory framework with effective enforcement and sanction powers. However, the Government should also reflect on the causes of low levels of competence and support the industry in addressing issues that could help to attract higher-calibre individuals into the sector. (Paragraph 89)

30.The proposals that the Government has put forward are likely to be expensive to implement, particularly for councils and fire and rescue authorities. The Government must ensure that new burdens funding is made available where it expects public bodies to take on new responsibilities. The Government must ensure that new burdens funding is made available where it expects public bodies to take on new responsibilities. (Paragraph 93)

Published: 18 July 2019