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2023: Another important year for building safety

31 January 2023

This article focuses on two recent pieces of legislation, each a response to the tragedy at Grenfell tower.  Read more.

2022 was an important year for building safety in the UK and it looks set to remain the dominate theme in the industry for 2023. We are keeping a close eye on the further provisions due to take effect under the Building Safety Act 2022 later in the year, and will keep you updated.

In the meantime, this article focuses on two recent pieces of legislation, each a response to the tragedy at Grenfell tower.

1. The Building etc. (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022 (the '2022 Regulations')

The 2022 Regulations are the Government’s response to a consultation process which considered the changes brought about by The Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (the '2018 Regulations'). The 2018 Regulations brought about considerable change, most notably by imposing a ban on the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of certain buildings in England and in specified attachments to external walls (i.e. a balcony, solar panel or a device for reducing heat gain by deflecting sunlight).

However, the Government committed to a review of the ban focussed mainly on broadening its scope. Fast forward three years, and the 2022 Regulations (which came into effect on the 1st December last year ) are bringing about even further change for the built environment industry in England.

What's changed? 

Scope of the Ban extended: Previously the ban on combustible materials was limited to a building with a storey of at least 18 metres above ground level and which contained one or more dwellings, an instruction or a room for residential purposes (but it excluded any room in a hostel, hotel or boarding house). However, hostels, hotels and boarding houses are now brought within the scope of the ban. 

  • Total ban on the 'Grenfell MCM': There is now a total ban on the type of material that was used in the cladding on Grenfell Tower (metal composite material with an unmodified polyethylene core) in the external walls of all new buildings and buildings undergoing building works, regardless of height or use. 
  • Ban on specified attachments: curtains and slats of solar shading devices (rather than the whole device) are included in the ban, save that ground floor awnings are exempt. 
  • Additional exemptions from the ban: the list of materials exempted from the combustible materials ban has been extended to include fibre optic cables and insulation up to 300mm from ground level. It also provides an 18-month temporary relaxation for cavity trays in all forms of construction (with took effect from the earlier date of 1st June 2022).
  • Performance Requirements: materials must meet an updated classification to comply with the combustible materials ban to the current version. The top layer of a balcony floor can meet the required standard using the horizontal-testing equivalent of the existing standard (which requires materials to be tested vertically).

It is also worth noting that the Government issued an amendment to Approved Document B to introduce new guidance for external walls and balconies for residential buildings between 11m and 18m in height, and this also came into effect on 1st December 2022.

A step in the right direction

Whilst the amendments are undoubtedly to be welcomed in terms of enhancing building safety, particularly the total ban on the type of material which was used in the cladding on Grenfell for all new builds / works to buildings going forward, we are again left to wonder whether they could have gone even further. For example, whilst the ban on combustible materials now extends to hostels, hotels and boarding houses, arguably it should also apply to certain buildings below 18m in height mirroring the Scottish approach where new legislation to ban combustible materials on all residential and other high-risk buildings above 11m is expected.

However, it seems like the industry in England wasn't yet ready for such a wider-reaching approach with technical, product and cost issues being listed amongst the key concerns.

2. Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 (the 'Fire Regulations') 

The Fire Regulations represent a further Government response to the tragedy at Grenfell tower. Coming into force on 23 January 2023 and applying to multi-occupied residential buildings in England only, the Fire Regulations bring about significant change to existing fire safety law. There are various new and stringent obligations and requirements for the 'Responsible Person' ("RP") whom, if they fail to comply, can face fines and/or imprisonment depending on the circumstances. The RP is often the person in control of the building, for example the building owner or the landlord, but ultimately it can be anyone who is designated with this responsibility. If there is more than one RP, there should be no doubt as to which person has ultimate responsibility for ensuring compliance. An overview of the RP's new duties are set out below which differ depending on the category of building.

  • Multi-occupied residential buildings (with two or more sets of domestic premises): The RP must ensure that (1) fire safety instructions (including information on how to report a fire and what to do in the event of a fire) are provided to residents; and (2) residents are provided with information regarding the importance of fire doors in managing fire safety. 
  • Residential buildings over 11 metres: In addition to providing residents with fire safety instructions including information on fire doors, the RP is required to undertake a check of all flat entrance doors (annually), and all fire doors in the common parts of the building (quarterly). 
  • High-rise buildings (i.e. at least 18 metres or 7 storeys): The RP is required to:-
    - provide residents with fire safety instructions including information on fire doors;
    - undertake checks (monthly) on lifts intended for use by firefighters and evacuation lifts, and check the functionality of other key pieces of firefighting equipment. The RP must report any defects identified to their local Fire and Rescue Service if the fault cannot be fixed within 24 hours;
    - install/maintain a secure information box in the building containing the RP's contact details and hard copies of the building floor plans;        -install signage which can be seen in low light or smoke, which must include floor and flat numbers in stairwells; 
    - supply their local Fire and Rescue Service (by electronic means) with up-to-date copies of the building's floor plans and the building plan itself. RP's can check their local Fire and Rescue Service's website for further information regarding how to share such information electronically. Copies of these plans must also be kept in the building's secure information box; and
    - supply their local Fire and Rescue Service (again by electronic means) with information about the design and materials of the building's external walls (to include the level of risk to which the design and materials of the external walls give rise, and any mitigating steps that have been taken in respect of that risk). 

A lot to digest for the RP!

Clearly, the Fire Regulations introduce many new and onerous obligations for those designated as the Responsible Person. There is a lot to digest and RP's should take steps to ensure that they are aware of and understand what is required of them. To this end, the Home Office has two guidance documents to assist RP's in complying with the new legislation, together with a series of fact sheets which provide more detailed information on the individual requirements of the Fire Regulations. The Fire Industry Association has also published further guidance on Secure Information Boxes and building and floor plans, including examples of best practice. All of this information is available online on the UK Government website.

Ultimately the Fire Regulations coming into force at the very start of this new year mark the theme for the remainder of the year and beyond: enhancing building safety. To quote the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, Chris Philp, "Keeping the public safe is our utmost priority and we are committed to ensuring that the Grenfell tragedy must never happen again."

Please watch this space for further updates from our Construction Team, particularly with regard to further developments pursuant to the Building Safety Act 2022 expected later this year. 


To find out more about the points in this article contact our experts.

Further Reading