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The Draft Building Safety Bill - The start of a new era for building safety

02 September 2020
Branded as containing "the biggest improvements to building safety in nearly 40 years", this article looks at the main elements of the draft Building Safety Bill (the "Bill"), published on 20 July 2020, which seeks to implement the primary legislation necessary to impose the core tenets of the Government's "Building a Safer Future" policy, which was created in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy of June 2017.

Established as a newly formed division of the Health and Safety Executive (the "HSE"), the Building Safety Regulator (the "BSR") will be responsible for overseeing the transition period and implementation of the new proposed regime. As such, the HSE have warmly welcomed the publication of the Bill, expressing its full support for its proposed measures. 

The Bill, which consists of five Parts and eight Schedules, introduces wide ranging changes to the regulatory scheme for assessing and enforcing building safety, including the implementation of a more stringent safety regime for "higher-risk buildings" with particular emphasis on blocks of flats taller than 18 metres high or six storeys in England. The definition of "higher-risk buildings" is yet to be verified by way of secondary legislation.

Dutyholders 

Seeking to encourage a culture of accountability and responsibility amongst owners, developers and contractors of higher-risk buildings, the Bill introduces a "dutyholder regime". The regime holds the person or corporate body responsible for creating buildings safety risks throughout a building's lifecycle (referred to as a "dutyholder") accountable for managing such risks under legislation. Accordingly, the Bill imposes multiple legal duties on dutyholders. The HSE have said this is a welcomed "move forward" to "enhance building safety across England". 

The Bill additionally proposes a "gateway regime" which splits the building process into three gateways: the planning application stage; the building control stage; and the completion/final certificate phase. At each stage, the Bill is designed to make it clear who is responsible for managing risks as a dutyholder and details the requirements which must be met in order to move to the next stage. As such, the BSR will be responsible for assessing the compliance of all buildings at the end of each gateway.

Once a higher-risk building is occupied, the duty holder (usually the owner) is rebadged as an "accountable person". As such, the Bill imposes additional duties on the accountable person to manage building safety risks during occupation, including obtaining a Building Assurance Certificate from the BSR and promoting a strong partnership between residents and its appointed Building Safety Manager. The Bill also imposes statutory obligations on Building Safety Managers and the building's residents.

Industry Competence 

New industry competence requirements for building designers and contractors will also be introduced, and a duty on clients to check the competence of those they instruct to undertake works will be imposed. To build the competence of architects, the Bill also introduces a power for the Architects Registration Board to monitor competence of the architects on their register.</p.to>

 

Building Safety Charge

The introduction of a “building safety charge” for leaseholders is also proposed. The new charge will pay for fire safety works within the building and will be retained by the freeholder within a separate account held by a financial institution. Such charge will also cover some of the new measures introduced by the Bill, such as paying for a Building Safety Manager.

Ensuring Compliance 

The Bill affords the BSR a combination of toughened existing powers and new powers including the ability to issue Stop or Compliance Notices on projects found to be breaching legislation, which carry a potential prison sentence of up to two years or an unlimited fine for non-compliance. The time limit for prosecution for persons who fail to comply with their responsibilities will also be extended from two years to ten years.

A New Homes Ombudsman will also be introduced for new homeowners, to allow for a better mechanism for complaints against developers.

Implementation 

According to the latest HSE Press Release, key talks are underway between the HSE, Government, key regulators and industry members to establish how the new legislation can be implemented in a practical way. It is understood that the Government’s Joint Regulators Group, led by the HSE, is also lined up to provide practical support and coordinated leadership with the BSR to Local Authority and Fire & Rescue Regulators during the transition to the new regime.

Like all drafts, the Bill will now be examined by a Parliamentary Committee, who will offer feedback with their findings before it is finalised. But the publication of the Bill is an important development for all those involved in planning, construction, property management and health and safety. As such, the industry is beginning to prepare for the substantial changes that are coming, with many already improving their standards in accordance with the Bill.

If you have any questions regarding the content of the new Bill or the likely steps your business may have to undertake, please get in touch with one of the contacts below.

Further Reading

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