A New Building Safety Regulator – One of the first strategic changes to the landscape of building safety law, is given its statutory platform this week.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, published in May 2018, identified some troubling, but not altogether unsurprising, issues with the current regulatory regime in building and fire safety.
Anyone who has followed the evidence unfolding in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry will be aware of claims of cultural toxicity and complacency levelled at almost every echelon of the building industry, from government to contractor. How justified these claims are, is of course, a matter for the Inquiry to determine. What they have done however, combined with Dame Judith Hackitt’s report, is to trigger the two landmark pieces of legislation: The Fire Safety Act 2021 and the Building Safety Act 2022.
The Building Safety Act 2022, commensurate with the issues it seeks to ameliorate is a weighty and complicated piece of legislation; at 230 pages and with a myriad of supplemental regulations, guidance and explanatory notes, it is estimated to be at least 18 months to be before it is fully in force. Make no mistake – this is an ambitious estimate for what is hoped to effect the biggest revolution to building safety regulation in a generation.
One of the first key changes, implemented on the 28 June, is the introduction of the new Building Safety Regulator (‘BSR’) by way of amendment to The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The BSR sits within the Health and Safety Executive and will have three main functions;
- To oversee the safety and standards of all buildings
- To help and encourage the built environment industry and building control professionals to improve their competence
- To lead the implementation of the new regulatory framework for high-rise buildings.
The BSR will have a particular focus in regulating the newly created ‘high-risk building’ – broadly, buildings with seven or more storeys, or those that are 18 metres or higher and have at least two residential units, or are hospitals or care homes (for the purposes of design and construction). The definition is intended to be fluid with the Building Safety Act 2022 granting the Secretary of State powers to amend the definition if and when the need arises.
Those who have had any dealing with the Health and Safety Executive will be acutely aware of the pressures it faces, both in terms of staff and funding, so one could be forgiven for asking the obvious question – why place this extra burden on an institution already grappling with its own challenges? It seems that this decision was influenced by Dame Judith Hackitt who advised this this approach would enable the government to mobilise the new BSR expeditiously, under the leadership of an organisation with an established reputation.
In this spirit, the Chief Inspector of Buildings, Peter Baker, previously Director of Building Safety and Construction at the HSE and appointed to head the BSR in 2021, has already begun to assemble his team, which by the time the Regulator becomes operational in 2023 could comprise as many as 700 individuals.
These individuals are expected to oversee the early stages of planning; engaging with contractors, developers and the fire and rescue services, to act as gatekeepers permitting (or not as the case may be) the building to progress to the next construction phase.
At this next stage in a project’s life, the BSR will adopt a role similar to that of building control, using enforcement notices to correct works where necessary and precluding projects from passing through the relevant gateways if duty holders are deemed not to have demonstrated competence.
The anticipated changes are both ambitious and long overdue, how they will unfold in practice remains to be seen. The challenge of course will be to balance the need for expedient and seismic change against the critical desire to ensure the measures are appropriate and work in practice; this pressure is being felt in government and in almost every construction business in England and Wales.
The next significant date to watch out for in the Building Safety Act’s journey will be the 28 of July; s.47 of the Building Act 1984 is amended allowing the Secretary of State to designate bodies to approve insurance schemes and to publish guidance as to the adequacy of such schemes. Stay tuned for more updates on this topic from our colleagues in our Construction & Engineering team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at July 2022.