Building safety back in the spotlight

Once again a residential block has gone up in flames. This time – thankfully – no one was killed. But it took 100 firefighters and 15 fire engines from the London Fire Brigade to get the huge blaze, at a block in Barking, under control. It seems that wooden balconies – which residents had previously raised concerns about – were responsible for spreading the fire at a terrifying speed and, once again, questions are being asked about the safety of construction materials and the way they are used on residential buildings.

Reform of the building safety regime is out for consultation.

So it seems ironic that on Friday the government published its new consultation Building a safer future: proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system. The document follows up on the recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety and looks for ways to make buildings safer for residents.

Five key areas are up for discussion:

  • Scope for a new building safety regime which goes further than Dame Judith recommended, covering all multi-occupied residential buildings of 18 metres or more;
  • The concept of ‘dutyholders’, who will have clear responsibilities for building design, construction and occupation;
  • Proposals to ensure that residents are given better information about their buildings so they can take part in decisions about safety, and have clear and quick routes of escalation for their concerns if they are not addressed;
  • Plans for a new building safety regulator; and
  • Proposals to strengthen regulation of construction products.

The proposed system will be underpinned by strengthened enforcement and sanctions and, where necessary, effective punishments for non-compliance.

This is all too little, too late for residents of the Barking block who will need rehousing until their homes can be brought back into a habitable state. But this fire highlights once again the holes that exist in our building safety regime. It is vitally important that the whole issue is closely scrutinised and that effective improvements are made. So if you want to have your say and respond to the consultation, you can read the document in full and complete the online survey at https://bit.ly/2Wt1vIb You have until the end of July to make your voice heard.