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New building safety proposals are full of holes

New building safety proposals are full of holes

Spruce Court, a high rise building Manchester, is seen with cladding in the process of being removed | PA Images

3 min read

Key definitions remain unclear and responsibilities ill-defined. Before the draft Building Safety Bill returns to the Commons, these areas must be addressed in full

Ever since the terrible events of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, which I chair, has been committed to ensuring lessons are learnt and real change forthcoming.

The consequences of the fire have been wide-ranging and complex. It demonstrated that the regime governing building safety was not fit for purpose and in desperate need of reform. We have also seen leaseholders threatened with huge bills to fix existing fire problems not of their making, or unable to sell or insure their homes due to new documentation requirements.

In July, the government published the draft Building Safety Bill, setting out how it intended to address the findings of the Hackitt review, and we carried out an inquiry to understand how effective its provisions would be.

We found that while the aims of the legislation were broadly addressing the right areas, it lacked the necessary detail to demonstrate that measures would be effective in practice.

It is not enough to establish a framework with the intention of fleshing out the minutiae at a later date

There is little doubt that radical reform is needed in how buildings are designed, constructed and managed. To do this, the new requirements and responsibilities on the different sectors involved must be entirely clear from day one.

It is not enough to establish a framework with the intention of fleshing out the minutiae at a later date. The consequences of flaws in this system are too grave for anything to be left to fall through the gaps.

We have called on the government to ensure that all the proposed supporting legislation and regulation is published alongside the Building Safety Bill when it is brought to the House of Commons.

During our inquiry, we found that there should be greater oversight on key professions in the construction and building managements sectors. This will prove critical in ensuring the success of the newly created roles of accountable person and building safety manager.

As it stands, it is unclear what the precise responsibilities will be, and the government should clarify this; however it is clear that a system of national accreditation and registration should be applied to them to ensure the highest standards are embedded from the outset.

Mechanisms for testing building material are also in need of significant improvement if they are to secure public confidence. Tests must be rigorous to prove fire safety, but they must also be transparent. The results of tests should be publicly available, particularly where materials have failed to meet established standards, and in cases where tests have been rerun.

The nightmare that too many leaseholders have faced due to the costs of remediation work to improve fire safety in existing buildings must come to an end. In its current form, the building safety charge allows for the cost of resolving historic fire safety issues to be passed on to leaseholders and this should be removed so that it only provides a mechanism for building a fund towards future maintenance.

The government will have to go further and commit to funding the upfront cost of fire remediation before recovering the costs from those responsible. Leaseholders should not have to foot the bill, and neither should the taxpayer.

I look forward to the government bringing the Building Safety Bill back to Parliament in its full form and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee will continue to do all it can to provide scrutiny and ensure it can be as effective as it will need to be.

 

Clive Betts is Labour MP for Sheffield South East and chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee

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