This week (14 September 2020) MPs on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee (HCLG) held the first evidence session to scrutinise the draft Building Safety Bill. RIBA Executive Director for Professional Services Adrian Dobson gave evidence to the committee alongside Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Council Graham Watts.
The bill legislates to introduce recommendations made by the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety (the Hackitt Review). The government states that this legislation will have a significant impact on the construction sector.
Chair of the Committee Clive Betts MP launched the session by asking the panellists whether the draft document achieves what it sets out to. Adrian emphasised that though the bill sets out the right framework and creates opportunities to achieve an overall safer system, much will rely on secondary legislation and therefore “the devil will be in the detail”. Graham supported this point by stating that “there are lots of other building safety issues that won’t easily be picked up but must be considered” but added that he “has a lot of confidence in the bill so far”.
Though not specified in the draft bill, the government have implied that the new system will only apply to high-risk residential buildings over 18 metres in the first two years of implementation. When Abena Oppong-Asare MP questioned the panellists on whether this height threshold was sufficient, Adrian highlighted the RIBA’s preference for a reduced threshold of 11 metres. Adrian emphasised that a number of fires had occurred in residential buildings under 18 metres in the last two years and that it is vital the threshold is reduced to truly ensure the safety of residents. Both Adrian and Graham also agreed that while height is a key factor, there is also a need to include places where vulnerable people sleep, such as care homes and hospitals, where height may only be one issue to consider when evacuating a premises in the event of a fire.
The bill also gives powers for gateway procedures to be implemented via secondary legislation, and therefore by ministers at a later stage. Adrian highlighted concerns with this, explaining that the bill suggests Planning Gateway One will occur before dutyholders are required to be in place. This may allow for projects to be developed by designers that do not meet the competency requirements, without a principal designer. Adrian also highlighted that the proposal outlines that projects developed through Permitted Development are not required to pass through Planning Gateway One and will therefore miss the crucial review of proposals by the Building Safety Regulator for fire safety at this stage.
Bob Blackman MP also questioned the panellists on where industry preparations were, in line with changes to be expected around competency requirements. Graham highlighted that many professions across the construction industry are already making changes, such as the RIBA’s new mandatory competency requirement for chartered architects on health and safety - which includes fire safety and will go live in October, but on a voluntary basis at first. Find out more.
This was the first of a round of several sessions the committee will be holding before producing a summary report which the government will have to respond to.
If you would like to learn more about our response to the draft Building Safety Bill, you can read our written response to the committee. Alternatively, the government has published explanatory notes which outline the proposed changes in more detail.
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