ALMOST three years after the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, the Government is to publicly name and shame building owners deemed to be dragging their feet on the removal of dangerous ACM cladding.
Those building owners who have not begun to take action to remove aluminium composite cladding (ACM) from their properties will be revealed from next month, housing secretary Robert Jenrick MP told MPs in the Commons yesterday.
This is part of a raft of measures intended to speed up improvements to building safety, according to the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG).
Plans include establishing a new regulator as part of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), which will be given “effective” oversight of the design, construction and occupation of high-risk buildings.
The secretary of state also confirmed the Government will consult on extending the ban on combustible materials to buildings below 18 metres and will seek views on how risks are assessed within existing buildings to inform future policy.
“The Government is committed to bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation,” said Jenrick.
“Progress on improving building safety needs to move significantly faster to ensure people are safe in their homes and building owners are held to account.
“That’s why today I’m announcing a major package of reforms, including establishing the Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive to oversee the new regime and publishing consolidated guidance for building owners.
“Unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks, I will publicly name building owners where action to remediate unsafe ACM cladding has not started. There can be no more excuses for delay, I’m demanding immediate action.”
The National Housing Federation (NHF) has welcomed the housing secretary’s announcement on building safety.
“Housing associations have already started removing combustible cladding from buildings under the 18-metre threshold, based on a broader assessment of risk. We therefore welcome the government’s proposals to apply a risk-based approach to evaluating building safety – something which we have been calling for,” said the organisation’s chief executive, Kaye Henderson.
“There are already significant capacity challenges for housing associations and other sectors involved in building remediation – including specialist contractors and fire safety experts. With potentially many more buildings requiring remediation it will be even more important that the government takes a strategic lead in coordinating resources across the country, so that buildings most at risk are remediated first.”
Henderson added: “We strongly support moves to simplify and consolidate government advice on remediation, and will look at how this might help housing associations remediate their buildings. We are pleased that the government is investigating options to support leaseholders to pay for remediation works.”
The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) also welcomed the package of reforms. The organisation’s chief executive, Gavin Smart said: “We welcome the intention to launch the shadow regulator within weeks and look forward to more information on its structure and, importantly, its funding.
“We have previously said that risk factors are broader than height alone, and we are glad the Secretary of State has agreed with us on this, though there now needs to be careful consideration of how many buildings will fall under the widened scope and what transitional arrangements will be put into place.
“We are pleased that that the 22 separate advice notes on building safety have finally been made clearer and consolidated into one document and that further advice and assurance has been provided on fire doors.
“We welcome the Secretary of State’s openness to explore options for funding for those leaseholders who have seen the value of their homes affected and we wait to hear further details from the Treasury.
“We will study all the documents released today and will comment further once we have digested their impact, and we await more detail in the Fire Safety Bill.”
Lord Porter, building safety spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “It is good that the Government is looking at lowering the height requirement at which combustible cladding is banned on new buildings and accepted our call to ensure that building safety reforms protect residents in all vulnerable buildings, such as hospitals, residential schools and care homes.
“The LGA has long-warned about the need for building safety reforms to avoid creating a two-tier building safety system which leaves buildings under 18 metres vulnerable and unprotected. The height of a building does not provide any indication about the risk to its safety, as has been proven by recent dangerous fires in buildings below 18 metres.
“We are also pleased the Secretary of State has said he is minded to lower the height at which sprinklers are required in new buildings, which is currently too high at 30 metres, as this is something the LGA has also called for. Height alone should not determine whether sprinklers should be fitted, as some buildings, such as care homes, house particularly vulnerable people and we urge the Government to make this change as quick as possible and fund the retrofitting of sprinklers using a risk-based approach.
“People need to be able to sleep safely at night in their homes. Councils continue to do all they can to protect residents and ensure private landlords quickly act to make their buildings safe and the LGA is working with MHCLG to support council enforcement against those who fail to act through the Joint Inspection Team.
“ACM is not the only cladding system that poses a risk to residents and the Government needs to come forward urgently with funding to support the removal of HPL (High Pressure Laminate) and other dangerous systems. It is also important that councils and fire and rescue services are given a leading role in ensuring any new building safety system works and we stand ready to work with the HSE and the Government to deliver the much-needed reform to ensure residents are safe and feel safe.
Jane Duncan, chair of RIBA’s expert advisory group on fire safety, said: “I’m pleased to see the government commit to addressing some of the urgent issues in UK buildings safety regulations, and welcome proposals to extend requirements for sprinklers and the ban on combustible materials. This year will mark the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, and far too little has changed since the tragedy.
“The RIBA will continue to lobby for strong baseline fire safety regulations on the use of combustible materials; means of warning and escape, and sprinkler systems, along with a comprehensive review of regulations and guidance. Urgent action is needed so people can feel safe in their homes.”
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The Government’s proposed package of measures, outlined by the MHCLG to improve building safety includes:
- Building Safety Regulator
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) will quickly begin to establish the new regulator in shadow form immediately, ahead of it being fully established, following legislation.
It will raise building safety and performance standards, including overseeing a new, more stringent regime for higher-risk buildings.
With a strong track record of working with industry and other regulators to improve safety, they will draw on experience and the capabilities of other regulators to implement the new regime. Dame Judith Hackitt will chair a Board to oversee the transition.
- Advice on building safety for multi-storey, multi-occupied buildings
Recent high-rise fires, including that in a block of student flats in Bolton in November 2019, have highlighted that many building owners have still not taken sufficient measures to ensure the safety of residents in buildings at all heights.
The Government appointed independent expert advisory panel (IEAP) has clarified and updated advice to building owners on actions they should take to ensure their buildings are safe, with a focus on their external wall systems, commonly referred to as cladding.
This consolidated advice is said to simplify the language, consolidates previous advice into one place, and – “vitally” – makes clear that building owners need to do more to address safety issues on residential buildings under 18 metres.
It additionally reflects the independent panel view that cladding material comprised of ACM (and other metal composites) with an unmodified polyethylene core should not be on residential buildings of any height and should be removed.
A call for evidence will also be published, seeking views on the assessment of risks within existing buildings. This will help to gather ideas and lead to research which will provide a firm evidence base to guide decisions for both existing buildings and future regulatory regimes.
- Fire doors
The consolidated advice also makes clear the actions building owners should take in relation to fire doors.
The Government says it welcomes the commitment by the Association of Composite Door Manufacturers to work with building owners to remediate their doors which failed tests.
The Government says it will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that this commitment is followed through.
- Remediation of buildings with ACM cladding
To speed up remediation, the Government says it will be appointing a construction expert to review remediation timescales and identify what can be done to improve pace in the private sector.
To ensure cost is not a barrier to remediation, the Government is considering different options to support the remediation of buildings. This includes examining options to mitigate costs for individuals or provide alternative financing routes.
- Combustible cladding ban
The Government has also launched a consultation into the current combustible cladding ban, including proposals to lower the 18 metre height threshold to at least 11 metres.
The Government’s consultation on sprinklers and other measures for new build flats concluded on 28 November 2019.
It is proposed to lower the height threshold for sprinkler requirements in new buildings and detailed proposals on how the Government will deliver the technical review of fire guidance will be set out in February.
- Fire Safety Bill
The Government has also set out further details of the upcoming Fire Safety Bill being introduced to Parliament, which it set out in more detail in its response to the Public Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations.
This will clarify the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – ‘the Fire Safety Order’ — requiring residential building owners to fully consider and mitigate the risks of any external wall systems and front doors to individual flats.
It is claimed these changes will make it easier to enforce where building owners have not remediated unsafe ACM by complementing the powers under the Housing Act.