Putting residents’ safety at the heart of Building Control with new legislation

London office buildings
Date Published

30/04/2021

Reading time

4 mins read

Author

Patrick Cunningham

Our Director of Building Control, Patrick Cunningham, looks ahead to the biggest transformation in Building Control services in his working life.

I’ve worked in Building Control and construction for two decades. I've seen many changes over the years, but none have been as revolutionary as the regulatory reforms that are to come with the new building safety regime.

The draft Building Safety Bill (BSB), published in July 2020, contains 331 pages of reforms. They range from more stringent safety requirements to the introduction of a new Building Safety Regulator, which sits within the Health and Safety Executive. At the heart of the new regime is the safety of residents in higher-risk buildings, following the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Dame Judith Hackitt conducted an independent review that focused on high-rise residential buildings and the draft BSB is the Government’s response to her findings. The reference has since changed to higher-risk buildings and her Independent report’s recommendations are very much reflected throughout the current BSB proposals, which currently only applies to England. Wales’, Scotland’s and Northern Ireland’s devolved governments are considering their own forms of building safety legislation as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Government plans to develop a clearer, more joined-up regulatory system with greater transparency and accountability. Through the new gateway ‘stop and go’ processes, it will be clear who’s responsible for managing safety risks throughout the building lifecycle from concept design and construction to occupation. There will be tougher sanctions, including, Stop Notices, Improvement Notices and unlimited fines for those who fail to meet their safety obligations.

The planning process is supported through gateway one, which requires an outline fire safety strategy to be submitted, and the Regulator will be a statutory consultee in the process. The lack of vital building construction information, certification and testing records is a very unsafe aspect of many high-risk apartment blocks. This has driven the new legal duty on all parties in a development to capture and safely store documentation to form the ‘golden thread’ of information. This must be accessible to the Regulator, fire service, Building Control Authority and building safety managers.

Local Authority Building Control (LABC), and in certain cases the Regulator, will be referred to as the Building Control Authority. Approved inspectors will become registered Building Control approvers and Building Control professionals registered with the Regulator will be known as registered building inspectors. Sanctions and criminal charges can be brought against anyone passing themselves off as any of these.

Alongside the draft BSB is a new Fire Safety Bill (FSB) and a new Fire Safety Order 2021, which focuses on greater clarity and accountability. This is currently being debated in the House of Lords and is expected to gain Royal Assent soon.

It’s anticipated that the draft BSB will be considered by Parliament this summer and gain Royal Assent later this year or early next year. While the biggest changes won’t come into effect until 2023, secondary legislation is currently being drafted and a transition plan will soon be published outlining how the current regime will transform into the new system.

A new UK-wide Construction Products Safety Regulator will oversee the safety of construction materials, ensuring that the life safety performance claims of all building products and materials are true and proven. They will also have powers to test or even ban the use or sale of products and materials that are known to be unsafe.

The Regulator has a wider role to provide stronger oversight of the safety and performance of all buildings, not just higher-risk ones. They will improve the performance and competence of everyone involved in the built environment through a robust process of monitoring, analysis, reporting and sanctions for Building Control bodies and professionals. This is across all work, not just in-scope buildings, and will affect all Building Control teams and professionals in England.

Getting our own house in order

At Capita, we provide end-to-end Building Control services to local authorities across the UK.

Therefore, I’ve spent considerable time reviewing the draft BSB and FSB to understand their requirements and any changes that we need to make. I’ve collaborated with my teams and clients, including our company partner, the Chartered Association of Building Engineers, and LABC.

We’ve conducted a detailed impact assessment of the BSB against our business and created a competency matrix that appraises our team members’ skills, qualifications, experience and requirements, similar to the Competency Steering Group’s version.

By preparing thoroughly, we’ll ensure that we’re fit and ready for the new regime and capable of supporting and safeguarding our local authority customers. My team are also helping local authorities to make their own preparations, by reviewing their Building Control services, assessing their requirements and overseeing their improvements.

Moving towards a positive future

In her final Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, Dame Judith described issues across the sector as a “race to the bottom” . She found there had been “insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, to ensure that residents are safe and feel safe”.

I fully support the changes that are to come with the new building safety regime and I’m optimistic that it will herald a professionally-led race back to the top for our industry, creating safer buildings and communities.

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Written by

Patrick Cunningham

Patrick Cunningham

Director of Building Control

Patrick is a Chartered Building Control professional with over 25 years’ experience in the professional construction industry across the private and public sector. Patrick has worked 17 of those years in Building Control, in various technical and managerial roles, managing services and operations. He has therefore developed an extensive understanding and knowledge of the Building Control market.

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