The Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) welcomes the publication of the new Building Safety Bill but remains concerned about the length of time it may take to pass through Parliament, the continued lack of funding and support for leaseholders and the delay to defining product safety criteria, with much of the detailed regulation expected to be contained within secondary legislation.
The ASFP welcomes the establishment of a new Building Safety Regulator, tasked with holding those who do not properly manage safety risks to account and with improving building standards. The new Regulator will have the power to issue compliance notices and stop notices during the design and construction phase, with failure to comply with such notices becoming a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine.
The Bill defines higher-risk buildings as those that are at least 18m in height or with at least seven storeys, but gives the Secretary of State the power to change this definition in light of research or on advice from the Building Safety Regulator. Since the use of height alone is a crude tool for determining the level of risk, the ASFP welcomes this ability to change the definition and hopes the scope will be broadened to include more buildings in due course.
The Bill also introduces a new Gateway regime to help ensure that building safety risks are considered at each stage of the construction process. These Gateways will be established at the planning stage, prior to construction and at building completion. It also requires a ‘golden thread’ of information to be maintained throughout the life of the building and for the appointment of an Accountable Person and a Building Safety Manager for each building within scope.
In a welcome move, the Bill requires landlords to take reasonable steps to ascertain whether any funding is available for the cost of cladding remediation and if so, they must make a claim and reduce service charges accordingly. It also seeks to extend the period within which legal action can be taken against a person or corporate body that carried out work from the current six years to 15 years.
While any assistance for leaseholders is welcome, the ASFP believes the support does not go far enough, particularly since the funding offered does not cover other identified fire safety failures, such as problems with fire doors and other compartmentation measures such as fire stopping.
The Bill also creates the concept of a ‘safety critical product’ and gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to place safety critical products on a statutory list. It introduces the concept of a national regulator for construction products within the Office for Product Safety and Standards.
However, the definition of what will constitute a safety critical product will be contained in secondary legislation, resulting in yet more delay. A further concern for the ASFP is the lack of regulation regarding installers of safety critical products/systems. While the Bill suggests a future requirement for a competence-based scheme, the ASFP is calling for mandatory third-party certification of installers of passive fire protection products.
Commenting on the Bill, ASFP Technical and Regulatory Affairs Officer Niall Rowan stated: ‘While the Bill introduces a range of welcome measures which should eventually lead to significant improvements in building safety, we have yet to see the detail and key definitions which will be introduced in the secondary legislation. We are concerned that scope of buildings to which the legislation will apply remains too narrow and at the lack of available funding to rectify fire safety system failings in existing buildings.
‘Furthermore, while we expect the products and systems manufactured and installed by ASFP members to be defined as “Safety Critical”, we have a number of concerns with regards to the application of the legislation to the installation, testing and market surveillance of these products.’
For further information on the ASFP and passive fire protection advice, visit www.asfp.org.uk