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Key Points from the Building Safety Bill’s Second Reading

On Wednesday 21st July the Building Safety Bill (BSB) had its second reading in the House of Commons. The session began with an opening statement by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, which included announcements on the Building Safety Fund’s reopening and a new Government recommendation that buildings below 18 metres should not require an EWS1 form. The Bill was then debated among MPs.

 

Building Safety Fund to Reopen in the Autumn

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s opening statement included the announcement that the Building Safety Fund (BSF) will reopen for applications. In turn, any buildings that missed the original registration deadline for the BSF will be able to apply when registration for the fund reopens in the Autumn. MHCLG currently forecasts that the BSF will support works of some form on over 1,000 high-rise buildings.

 

Progress So Far

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick reported that almost 700 buildings (totalling £2.5 billion) are proceeding with a full application to the BSF "despite many buildings owners failing to provide adequate basic information". MHCLG has allocated £540 million through the Fund, which means owners of over 60,000 homes and properties within high-rise blocks are covered by BSF applications and can be reassured that unsafe non-ACM cladding on their blocks will be replaced.

Speaking on the Waking Watch Relief Fund, 191 buildings are already benefitting from the £30 million available.

Over 95% of buildings with ‘Grenfell type’ cladding identified at the beginning of last year have been fully remediated or have workers on site. This means that around 16,000 homes have been fully remediated of unsafe ACM cladding – an increase of around 4,000 since the end of last year.

 

Update on EWS1 Forms for Buildings Below 18m

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick reported back on recommendations from an expert panel (which included Dame Judith Hackitt among its panellists) appointed to review steps that should be taken to ensure that a more "risk-proportionate approach" is taken to fire safety in blocks of flats. It found that there is "no evidence of systemic risk of fire in blocks of flats".

The panel's recommendations were that:

  • EWS1 forms should not be a requirement on buildings below 18m.
  • In the small number of cases where there are known to be concerns, these should be addressed primarily through risk management and mitigation.
  • There should be a clear route for residents/leaseholders to challenge costly remediation work and seek assurance that proposals are proportionate and cost effective.
  • Government should work with the Shadow Building Safety Regulator to consider how to implement an audit process to check that fire risk assessments are following guidelines, not perpetuating the risk aversion we are witnessing, in some instances.
  • Fire risk assessors, and lenders, should not presume that there is significant risk to life unless there is evidence to support this. This would ensure that they respond only to the evidence and adopt a far more proportionate and balanced approach.
  • The Government will now act on these recommendations, which have been supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Institute of Fire Engineers.

HSBC UK, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and others have supported this advice, which will now pave the way for EWS1 forms to no longer be required for buildings below 18m and will help "further unlock the housing market".

Latest indications are that the number of residential blocks between 11m and 18m in height are 61,000. Data from one major lender suggests that 7% of flats in buildings up to six storeys currently require an EWS1 assessment and in most of these cases, EWS1 forms are found to already be held, leading to requests for an EWS1 form on approximately 5% of flats.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick reiterated that if the market reacts as MHCLG is hoping then this would reduce further, and hundreds of thousands of leaseholders will be able to get on with buying, selling or re-mortgaging their homes.

 

Other Points Covered

Once finally presented, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick also stated that:

  • The new Building Safety Regulator would have the powers to enforce the rules set out by the new framework. All buildings would have an individual that is accountable and responsible for safety, and non-compliance would be a criminal offence. Whilst also being able to tackle bad practice, the Bill will have the ability to remove construction products that were unsafe from the market
  • The Bill will strengthen redress for people who were buying a new build home through provisions for the New Homes Ombudsman, who will resolve complaints between buyers and developers.  
  • The commitment in the Bill which will retrospectively extend the period in which compensation can be claimed for defective premises from 6 to 15 years was reaffirmed. The scope of the work for which compensation can be claimed will also be expanded to include future major renovation work.
  • He noted that some housebuilders had “stepped up” and provided funding to help with remediation, but that the industry must go further, highlighting a new consultation being launched on a levy on high rise residential buildings. 

 

Opposition Response

Responding to the statement, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, Lucy Powell showed her frustration at the timing of the Bill and its delay, since it was three years after the Hackitt report. She also noted that the Building Safety Regulator’s scope should go further than buildings of 18m and that the HCLG Committee and the Fire Brigades Union stressed it should be extended to 18m or four stories. She said the scope of the BSB was too narrow, the deadlines too tight and administered too slowly. She also stated the guidance note issued in January 2020 brought all buildings at any height into scope of an EWS1 form, and questioned how this Bill affected that guidance.

 

Debate Summary 

The open debate on the Bill focussed on how the Bill falls short on several fronts and is overly focused on cladding. Prior to the reading, ARMA and its political advocacy group had met with several MPs to ensure that important industry points were raised during the debate. The most notable points raised included:

  • Leaseholders should be protected from remediation and fire safety costs.
  • Where developers clearly avoided regulations or built buildings with unsafe or dangerous materials, they should pay to remediate the buildings and put right fire safety defects.
  • A call for a change to the ‘culture’ of the building industry and how building products are produced.
  • RICS guidance moving forward would be important and clarity around already issued EWS1 forms and whether they would stay in effect should the government confirm the consolidated advice note being withdrawn.
  • The excessive costs of Waking Watches.

Welsh MPs that contributed to the debate pointed out:

  • The UK Government needed to confirm the Welsh Government’s funding package as the Welsh Government was currently unable to proceed with its own BSF to deal with these issues in Wales.

 

ARMA’s Response

Nigel Glen, CEO of ARMA, said: “The Bill notes that works should now be "proportionate", but who will be responsible for judging what is proportionate on a block-by-block basis? We hope that the Health and Safety Executive will choose to step in on this important issue.’

We agree that EWS1 forms should no longer be needed for buildings below 18 metres, but this sentiment will only benefit leaseholders if mortgage lenders and insurers agree. Some of the largest banks were omitted from those mentioned in the Commons on Wednesday, how long will it be until the rest follow suit, if at all.”

 

The Bill will now enter its Committee Stage when Parliament returns in September.

You can read the full transcript of the Second Reading debate here.

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