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Government proposes major building safety regulator reforms

Industry feedback is now being sought on how to drastically reform the enforcement of building safety and penalise bad practice as part of ongoing response to Hackitt Report

A new UK building safety regulator and the introduction of stronger sanctions on bad practice are among key proposals of a major new government consultation on construction.

Feedback will be sought until July 31 from across industry on the proposals in the consultation, which are intended to drastically overhaul the existing regulatory system for buildings. This will include asking where changes are most vitally needed in a number of areas to overhaul construction and building services work and rethink how best to ensure the ongoing, safe functioning of new and old buildings.

The consultation’s announcement has been made just under two years since the significant loss of life resulting from the fire at Grenfell Tower in London that destroyed the high-rise residential building. The fire exposed longstanding fears about a complex and inadequate regulatory system that led to government having to launch a major independent review that reported it findings last year.

Proposals to create a new regulator to oversee building work and how a structure is maintained reflect the numerous concerns about current industry practice raised by Dame Judith Hackitt in her Independent Review of Fire Safety and Building Regulations, according to the Home Office.

The latest consultation has five overall themes to address the biggest concerns raised by Dame Judith, such as in ensuring residents have a stronger voice on potential building issues and that their concerns are addressed.

‘Golden thread’

Feedback is also requested over the overall scope of safety regulations and defining those responsible for upholding them. This will include creating clearer guidance and standards that will need to be devised by a specially commissioned committee.

Calls in the Hackitt Report for the creation of ‘duty-holders’ with clearly assigned responsibility for resident safety and following standards will also be addressed in the consultation. Another aim is to define how this role will be enforced to keep all information on a building up to date and accessible.

The Home Office said in a statement, “Duty-holders will be responsible for keeping vital safety information about how the building was designed and built and is managed.”

“This is known as the ‘golden thread’ of information and will be kept electronically for the entire life of a building, from its design to its place as a home for residents.”

Government has also announced intentions for the creation of a new building safety regulator that would potentially have the power to impose criminal or civil sanctions - such as fines and even imprisonment - for serious breaches of regulations and standards.

The Home Office added, “The building safety regulator will 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.”

Industry feedback is also being sought on how best to strengthen enforcement and sanctions to eliminate non-compliance with Building Regs.

An additional call for evidence on the 2005 Fire Safety Order has also been launched in trying to address criticisms of existing standards and compliance regime identified in the Hackitt report last year. Views from organisations and individuals involved in fire safety, including the enforcement and regulation of current practice, are required to help rethink how non-domestic premises and common parts of multi-occupied residential buildings are managed.

Time for change

Earlier this year, Specialist Engineering Contractors’ (SEC) Group chief executive Rudi Klein argued that a single industry-wide regulator should be created with sufficient powers to enforce standards if disasters such as Grenfell are to be avoided.

Mr Klein told the H&V News HeatingCast that he believed a significant new approach to enforcement is needed in the form of a body with a single remit, rather than several organisations with overlapping responsibilities.

He said this could function in a manner similar to the communications regulator Ofcom or even HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – ensuring instead that buildings are meeting a range of standards - from fire safety to efficiency.

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