CIC gives Three (Muted) Cheers for the Building Safety Act
Posted: 28th April 2022
CIC welcomes the Building Safety Act, which received Royal Assent today. CIC and its membership of the professional bodies across the built environment have been liaising with officials at DLUCH (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) since the Grenfell tragedy in 2017.
CIC has providing wide ranging input, representing our membership, into the Hackitt Review, the draft bill and the Bill which has, amongst other things, sought to implement her recommendations. This included through the DLUCH Industry Response Group and in providing oral and written evidence to the Select Committee inquiry into the draft bill and the Bill.
CIC is also particularly pleased that the establishment of a New Homes Ombudsman is taken forward in the Act, since this implements the main recommendation from the ‘More Homes, fewer complaints’ report. This is a report from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment/CIC Commission of Inquiry into the quality and workmanship of new housing in England, which was published by CIC in July 2016.
The Act represents a paradigm shift in the way in which residential buildings are to be designed, built, managed and regulated. However, despite the scale of the Act (262 pages) and the vast number of amendments that have been made to it, there is still a great deal of detail to be determined through secondary legislation which CIC and its members stand ready to further assist government by providing expert opinion to enable government to get this detail right.
One issue that needs to be addressed is that, despite the five years that have elapsed since Grenfell, the wider industry is still ill-prepared for the changes to come. In tandem with the transitional period of 18-24 months for the implementation of secondary legislation there needs to be a considerable communication exercise to create the necessary culture change in the industry and to absorb the new regulatory regime.
CIC especially welcomes the specific focus on improving competence across all sectors engaged in the design, construction, maintenance, management and regulation of residential buildings. This carries forward the work of the Competence Steering Group that CIC has hosted over the past four years. CIC will continue to work closely with colleagues in the construction, built environment, fire safety and building owner/manager sectors to continue our engagement with the interim Building Safety Regulator and the Interim Industry Competence Committee.
Whilst welcoming the Act, which has taken two years since the publication of a draft bill in 2020, CIC has a number of reservations about the extensive changes that have been made during the passage of the bill. In particular, the holistic process recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt in 'Building a Safer Future' (May 2018) has been cherry-picked. In some regards, her recommendations have been expanded upon (for example, in relation to scope, which we welcome) and in others they have been watered down and her rounded approach to achieving building safety has been impacted.
The last-minute change of heart about the statutory requirement to appoint a Building Safety Manager is a prime example of this break from the Hackitt recommendations. The role has been removed but the functions to ensure the building safety of residents remain and the idea that the cost of providing building safety management of occupied buildings, in scope to the Act, will not fall on the residents is unlikely to be the case, irrespective of whether there is a duty to appoint a Building Safety Manager.
CIC also remains concerned about the impact of extended liability under the Act, including for any works to dwellings (whether higher risk or not), and under the s38 of the Building Act. It is particularly concerned about extending the period of liability under the Defective Premises Act from six to thirty years and retains the belief that such a period of retrospective strict liability is unworkable for practical and contractual reasons. This amendment is likely to further exacerbate an already uncertain market for professional indemnity insurance (PII).
The PII market for construction-related activity in general and any work on high-rise residential buildings, in particular, is already far too weak to meet demand and there is adequate data to show that businesses are leaving the marketplace as a result. This is a major problem that requires urgent government intervention to enable businesses to continue to be able to carry out work on the design, construction and management of high-rise residential buildings and more widely, on fire risk and building safety work. Taken together with the rising cost of building work, particularly in relation to construction product availability and inflation, this will have a constraining impact on the industry’s ability to meet housing demand, especially affordable housing. This is a matter that the Treasury will need to consider very carefully.
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