There’s no doubt the industry is open to the idea of planning reform and Building Regulation changes post-Grenfell. When Judith Hackitt released her scathing attack on the current system last year, she highlighted apartment blocks of ten storeys and higher as being at greater risk and therefore needing more procedures in place to protect residents.
The Government has now surprised many with their official response, by recommending all multi-residential buildings of six storeys or greater need to be covered. If this makes it to law, this will impact thousands of additional buildings across England than first thought and will also target a higher number of large new build projects.
The ‘Building A Safer Future’ report is open for public consultation until the end of July and if you are involved with larger developments, it is worth having a read and having your say while you can.
Responsibility seems to be a key driver to the proposed changes in both process and regulations so that individuals can be held responsible should things go wrong. For new build developments, the Government is proposing introducing the following three ‘Gateway’ steps. A very similar process would need to be followed when completing renovation works on tall buildings also.
First off, the development team behind a new site must put a team of ‘Dutyholders’ in place. The buck stops with these individuals. They will include:
As part of the planning process the Dutyholders must create a Fire Strategy, in conjunction with the local Fire & Rescue Authority, for all buildings taller than 30 metres. Planning will be refused without this.
The second and third gateways would apply to six storey plus / 18 metres tall multi-occupancy buildings:
Gateway Two will require the Dutyholder to confirm the design is compliant with all building regulations. This needs to be proven before work can start on site.
And the third Gateway must be completed before the first occupant moves in. The Dutyholder must hand over all building safety information, register the building (who to is still to be confirmed), and report to the regulator that any risks discovered during construction have been assessed and dealt with safely.
Throughout this process, Dutyholders will be required to keep a ‘Golden Thread’. This is a set of key documents which are held digitally and feature all relevant pieces of information about the building. This includes plans, materials used, issues during construction, compliance reports, inspection notes, the list goes on.
The Golden Thread must be accessible to emergency services and relevant information must be shared with residents on request.
Following construction, development teams will move onto the next project, but the Dutyholder and Accountable Person roles stay in place (not necessarily with the same individuals) to work with residents ensuring the safety of the building for years to come. However, this won’t impact just newly-completed buildings as the intention is for every six storey plus building to be brought into line with these changes. The document suggests various sanctions on Dutyholders who do not stay on top of things, with regulator intervention, stop notices and prosecutions all being considered.
There is a common theme through ‘Building A Safer Future’ that residents need to have confidence in the buildings they call home, must have a way of raising concerns with building managers, and must have a higher power to go to if they need to.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find individuals who would be willing to argue against the introduction of tighter processes, but those who may find themselves in line to become a Dutyholder will certainly have questions around their own protection, where their responsibilities end, and about the additional man hours and costs of maintaining these proposals in the real world.
Following the public consultation on these recommendations, the Government will review and begin writing some or all of their ideas into law. It has been said all along that changes to our regulations post-Grenfell wouldn’t be quick, and there has been plenty of frustration from all sides (from tower block residents to Judith Hackitt herself) about the time it’s taken for us to get this far.
This release is an important step forward and shows the Government’s intention to press ahead with sweeping changes. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next.