The Building Safety Bill was introduced to Parliament on 5 July by Housing Minister Robert Jenrick MP.
Although the headline proposals contained within the Bill have been known for some time, its formal introduction marks a significant – and crucial – moment in its development. The draft is not only voluminous (running to 218 pages), but also seeks to fundamentally revise the current system of building safety and regulation, with the Government confirming that it intends the Bill will “create lasting generational change”in terms of how buildings are designed, constructed and maintained.
The Bill is incredibly wide-ranging in its proposed scope and extent, but what are the key changes suggested?
A ‘Golden Thread’ of Information
A key objective of the Bill is to establish a ‘Golden Thread’ of information to identify at every stage of a residential building’s lifetime, from planning and design through to completion and occupation, who is responsible for ensuring safety standards, and for managing potential risks.
In general terms, the Bill proposes that the person or entity which creates a potential risk should, as far as possible, also be responsible for managing that risk.
To help the passage of information between duty holders, the current Building Act will be amended to introduce a new ‘Gateway’ regime. Each gateway is intended to act as a ‘hard stop’ with compliance and appropriate sign-off/regulatory approval being required before the next development stage is able to commence.
To assist in retaining the Golden Thread of information following completion, and to act as an identifiable point of liaison for residents, the Bill will establish an Accountable Person for all higher risk buildings, being those over 18m/ seven storeys in height and which contain at least two residential units. The Accountable Person may be an individual or corporate entity. Once appointed, the Accountable Person must apply to the Building Safety Regulator for a Building Assurance Certificate, as confirmation that they are complying with their statutory obligations and must manage the ‘golden thread’ of information.
In addition, the Accountable Person must also appoint a Building Safety Manager (before occupation in relation to higher-risk buildings) to assist them with the day-to-day management of safety within the building.
The Building Safety Regulator must be notified of the appointment of the Building Safety Manager and will have the power to veto their appointment if it is not satisfied that they have the relevant skills, knowledge, and experience to discharge their responsibilities.
Building Safety Regulator
The Bill proposes extensive and wide-ranging powers for the new Building Safety Regulator, including the ability to investigate and prosecute those who fail to meet the new standards and requirements. Where corporate offences are found to have been committed with the consent, connivance or neglect of directors or managers, then those individuals will also be liable to prosecution in addition to the corporate entity. The Regulator will comprise both resident representatives and industry experts.
In addition, the Bill permits the Building Safety Regulator to appoint a Special Measures Manager to replace the Accountable Person or Building Safety Manager, where serious failures endangering the life of residents are identified.
Mirroring existing powers of the Health and Safety Executive, the Building Safety Regulator will also be able to issue compliance notices, which will require duty holders to rectify non-compliance issues by a specified date. In addition, the Regulator will have the ability to issue stop notices during the design and construction phase, mandating the stoppage of work until non-compliances have been addressed. Failure to comply with either type of notice will be an offence, punishable by a custodial sentence of up to two years for individuals, and/ or an unlimited fine for corporate entities.
Peter Baker, Chief Inspector of Buildings within the Health and Safety Executive, has said of the Bill’s introduction that it, “will give HSE the tools to deliver its important role as the Building Safety Regulator and is an important step in setting out what will be expected of future duty holders”.
He continued: “Everyone involved in higher risk buildings from design, construction and day-to-day operations will manage and control building safety in a way that is proportionate to the risks. This will ensure these buildings are safer for those who live in them, and they have a stronger voice. I encourage duty holders to use the Bill’s introduction in preparation for the new, more rigorous regulatory regime.
“The Building Safety Regulator will continue to work with industry and others to deliver the new building safety regime to ensure that residents of higher risk buildings are safe, and feel safe, in their homes now and in the future.”
New Homes Ombudsman
The Bill also proposes the establishment of a New Homes Ombudsman scheme, to receive complaints from the owners of new build homes and to help hold developers to account. The Ombudsman will be able to impose sanctions on developers who breach requirements, although an appeals procedure will also be available.
However, unlike other Ombudsman services, the Bill mandates that developers become, and remain, members of the new scheme.
Regulation of Construction Products
The Bill proposes to regulate construction products placed for sale on the UK market, through the concept of ‘safety critical products’ and their inclusion on a statutory list. The Bill also contains provision for future regulations to be introduced to prohibit the supply or marketing of products which are unsafe.
Where products do not fall under an existing regulatory regime and are not included on the statutory list, the Bill enables regulations to be created which will require manufacturers to ensure that the products they supply are safe, with breach resulting in prosecution.
The draft Bill has a long way to go before it receives Royal Assent. Given that there is little time for further discussion before the start of the summer recess at the end of July, the majority of discussions will likely take place from the autumn. Thereafter, it is unlikely that the Bill will come fully into force much before summer 2022.
Whilst it is hoped that the Bill will be able to be enacted without significant amendments, to the benefit of all stakeholders and residents, it is not expected to have an entirely smooth transition through Parliament. For example, it is anticipated that substantial amendments will be proposed by the opposition and rebellious Conservative backbenchers, especially in relation to the redress available to leaseholders within unsafe buildings.
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