The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has set out proposals for a new building safety regulator as part of a package of reforms driven by 2017’s Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Steps to ensure residents’ concerns are “never ignored” are also among the measures outlined in a consultation setting out the government’s response to the Hackitt Review on building standards and fire safety, commissioned in the wake of the west London fire that claimed 72 lives.
Dame Judith Hackitt, former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, stopped short of calling for a new regulator as part of her proposals for a new safety regime when she reported in May last year. However MHCLG said it needed to not only take up all of her recommendations but to also “go further”.
Hackitt’s review was separate from the ongoing independent public inquiry into the Grenfell tragedy, but it sought to deal with what MHCLG describes as a recognition that “too many in the building industry were taking short cuts that could endanger residents” in their homes.
Her May 2018 recommendations had been that a “joint competent authority” should be created to oversee the construction of blocks of flats that are 10 or more storeys tall, and which she called “high risk residential buildings”. She also said reviews of building regulations to be carried out at least every five years.
MHCLG is backing the creation of a new regulator to enforce the safety assurance regime proposed by Hackitt, and is also suggesting that the height of the buildings that the regime will apply to should be lower than the minimum Hackitt proposed. It believes the regulator should be responsible for residential buildings of six storeys – or 18m – and taller.
Hackitt’s raft of proposals for improving standards and providing assurance to residents involved the creation of a system of “dutyholders” – designated professionals who have the responsibility to keep high-rise buildings safe.
The dutyholders would be clearly identified architects, contractors and developers who worked on the construction – or refurbishment – of particular buildings, and who would be responsible for keeping vital information about how relevant buildings are designed, built and managed for the entire life of the structure. The information, known as the “golden thread” must be kept up-to-date and accessible to everyone with an interest in the structure, including residents.
MHCLG said that its new building safety regulator would have the authority to take enforcement action against those responsible a structure if they failed to carry out their dutyholder obligations, with fines or imprisonment among the penalites.
It said the building safety regulator would be responsible for overseeing the safety of new and existing buildings.
"Their strong focus will be on checking that safety is being properly considered and necessary safety measures are put in place when new high rise residential buildings are being designed and built, and that robust safety measures are in place for existing buildings," it said.
MHCLG said the new regulator would also have oversight of “competence” of people working on buildings, and that it would keep a register of those considered fit to take on key dutyholder roles and where to find qualified people.
Outlining the government's proposals, housing secretary James Brokenshire said his department had accepted all 53 of Hackitt's recommendations, but was also pursuing more radical reform.
He said that the new regulator would fulfil all of the functions proposed by Hackitt for the "joint competent authority" - which would have brought together fire and rescue services, local authority building control, and the HSE.
"This regulator will also oversee the wider building and regulatory system and watch over efforts to assure the competence of those working on buildings," he said.
"We are also proposing to strengthen the oversight and regulation of construction products."
Brokenshire said residents would also get a "stronger voice" in the new system,in a bid to ensure their concerns were never ignored.
"We propose guaranteeing the provision of better information to residents on their buildings, and better engagement to help them participate in decisions about safety. Moreover, we want to provide them with clear and quick routes of escalation if things do go wrong," he said.
The proposals are out to consultation until July 31.