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2021: A year of significant change for building safety?

An update on the regulatory changes expected this year.

2021 marks four years since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower that claimed 72 lives. It shouldn’t take a horror of that scale, or any scale, to prompt change, but that seems to be what has occurred here. As well as the anniversary, 2021 will mark the beginning of long overdue regulatory reform, where we expect to see some of the biggest changes to building safety laws for over 40 years.

Since long before the fire at Grenfell, the RIBA has been lobbying for a stronger regulatory system and tougher Building Regulations to ensure the safety of the public. While we have seen small (but significant) changes made since Grenfell, we expect the greatest changes to occur as a result of the Fire Safety Bill and Building Safety Bill, which will both pass through Parliament this year.

In this article we update on developments and look at what we expect to see over the next twelve months.

Building Safety Bill

In the aftermath of the fire at Grenfell Tower, the government commissioned Dame Judith Hackitt to lead an Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. Dame Judith put forward a number of recommendations for a safer regulatory system that would challenge the competence of professionals within the built environment, enable a “golden thread” of information from design stages through to occupancy, and provide residents a louder voice in the decision making process. The Building Safety Bill aims to implement these recommendations through legislation and will be formally introduced in the House of Commons later this year.

In June 2020, aware that the government was due to publish detail on the Bill, we hosted an online event with the Association of British Insurers, the Chartered Institute of Building, the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Introduced by Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Housing Communities and Local Government Select Committee (HCLG), the event discussed industry priorities for a new system - read our summary.

One month later (July 2020), the government published a draft version of the Bill, which was then subject to public scrutiny through an HCLG Select Committee inquiry. In addition to submitting a written response, our Executive Director for Professional Services Adrian Dobson took part in an oral evidence session with Committee MPs. Following this, the Committee published a report that emphasised a number of our key recommendations including the extension of what is defined as a ‘higher risk building’. It also demonstrated support for our suggested 11 metre height threshold.

The Building Safety Bill will also be used as an opportunity to amend the Architects Act 1997. Proposed amendments to the Act surrounded two key areas: mandatory competency requirements for architects and the future of recognition of international qualifications. To provide architects with the opportunity to express concerns and support for the proposals, earlier this year we hosted a series of virtual roundtables with members across the country and senior civil servants from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. We also launched a survey to collate feedback from the wider profession to help shape our response to the consultation. Take a look at our survey findings and written response.

We will continue to update members as the Bill progresses through Parliament. Find out more about our work on the Building Safety Bill so far.

Fire Safety Bill

The Fire Safety Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 19 March 2020. The Bill, which lies with the Home Office, sets out amendments to the Fire Safety Order 2005.

Though much less detailed than the Building Safety Bill, the Fire Safety Bill is expected to result in greater clarity over responsibility for fire safety in buildings containing more than one home, which could have a significant impact on architects.

In June 2020, we gave evidence to MPs on the Fire Safety Bill Committee, and later that year we submitted a written response to a fire safety consultation launched by the Home Office.

The Bill is currently in the ping-pong stage of the parliamentary legislative process, which refers to the to and fro of amendments put forward and debated between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

What happens now?

We will continue to call on the government to introduce strong fire safety measures by responding to consultations, presenting evidence to parliamentary committees and hosting meetings and briefings with MPs.

To ensure that RIBA Chartered Architects are at the forefront of driving the cultural change needed, we're also introducing our own mandatory competences for UK Chartered Members.

To keep updated with our lobbying activity, sign up to our weekly Political Update newsletter by emailing public.affairs@riba.org.

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