THE ASSOCIATION for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) has welcomed the bill, but outlined a ‘number of concerns’ in its response to the consultation.

In July, the government published the draft bill, which included mention of the new role of the accountable person, who will ‘have to listen and respond’ to concerns and ensure resident are heard, called the accountable person. There will also be resident and leaseholder access to ‘vital’ safety information about buildings, and new complaints handling requirements for ‘effective action’.

The BSR will ‘oversee all this and make sure that accountable persons are carrying out their duties properly’, and ‘ensure that high rise buildings and the people who live in them are being kept safe’, with ‘new powers to raise and enforce higher standards of safety and performance across all buildings’. Resident panels will be appointed to have a voice in developing the regulator’s work.

The government will also be ‘speeding up’ its work with finance and insurance sectors to protect leaseholders from fire safety costs ‘without relying on tax payers’ money’, while a new building safety charge will make it ‘easy for leaseholders to see and know what they are being charged for’. To ensure these costs are affordable, the government has ‘deliberately included powers to limit’ costs that can be re-charged to leaseholders.

‘For the first time’ new build buyers will be able to complain to a new homes ombudsman, and developers will have to be a member of the scheme, with the ombudsman having the power to require they ‘pay compensation’. For construction, the bill will ‘fully establish’ the BSR to ‘enforce new rules and take strong actions against those who break them’, ensuring they are ‘accountable for any mistakes’.

The BSR’s three functions including overseeing safety and standards of all buildings; ‘directly’ assuring safety of higher risk buildings; and improving the competence of those ‘responsible for managing and overseeing’ works. A ‘more stringent’ set of rules for high rises will apply when buildings are ‘designed, constructed and then later occupied’, with each stage making it ‘clear who is responsible for managing the potential risks and what is required to move to the next stage’.

This ties into the “golden thread” of ‘vital information about the building’, and buildings need to be registered with the BSR as well as apply for a building assurance certificate. The accountable person will then need to ‘conduct and maintain’ a safety case risk assessment and appoint a building safety manager ‘to oversee it day to day’, with building inspectors ‘responsible for signing buildings off as safe for people to live in’ also having to follow the rules and register with the regulator.

Additionally, the government will have the power to ‘better regulate’ construction materials and products, and ‘ensure they are safe to use’. Ministers will appoint the UK’s first chief inspector of buildings, who will lead the new regulator ‘to make sure effective action is taken where concerns are raised’.

It was later reported that a survey of 1,000 leaseholders across the UK found that 70% were ‘reluctant and worried’ over the plans for increased responsibility for flat block safety, before leaseholders in Leeds stated the plans had caused them ‘enormous alarm’. In August, more details were provided, including planned new penalties of up to two years in jail for breaching the bill, while other information on fire related elements was provided.

In a press release, the ASFP discussed its submission to the pre legislative consultation on the bill, noting that while it ‘broadly’ welcomes the bill ‘as an important step’ in implementing the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety, it has outlined a ‘number of concerns’ in relation to ensuring appropriate testing, installation and ongoing market surveillance of safety critical products and systems.

The ASFP said that it welcomed the ‘move to increase the rigour of construction products regulation for safety critical products’, and that it has advocated mandatory third party certification of passive fire protection products ‘for many years’. However, while it ‘recognises that this legislation will eventually make that reality’, it has concerns over the proposed product testing regime, ‘primarily around’ how products with European or UK technical assessments (ETAs or UKTAs) ‘will be treated’.

In the draft bill, products with a UKTA are exempt from any safety critical status, which the ASFP believes ‘could potentially lead to a loophole’, and as ETAs and UKTAs are not mandatory, and ‘there are no minimum requirements for properties within scope of the technical assessment’, the ASFP recommends product families be defined ‘along with an appropriate level of testing’.

All products within a family, the ASFP believes, ‘should be tested, assessed and certified and based upon individual tests of products and systems to ensure that products cannot gain entrance into the market based upon tests conducted by one manufacturer’, and the ‘apparent lack of legislation’ that covers installers of safety critical products and systems is a ‘significant concern’ for the ASFP.

While the current bill suggests installers will have to meet a ‘future requirement for a competence-based scheme’, the ASFP considers this ‘an inadequate level of response’, and called for ‘some form of regulation of installers’, recommending that the government ‘mandate a body to establish the competence levels required within the construction industry and to oversee their implementation’.

It concluded by noting that there have been ‘historical challenges of market surveillance’ under the Construction Products Regulation (CPR), with EU member state authorities charged with such surveillance ‘have not had the necessary skills and experience’, and despite there being a new product regulator to be created in the UK, the ASFP notes that the draft bill ‘does not clearly identify this’, only stating that such tasks would be undertaken by ‘relevant authorities’.

The draft also ‘identifies a number of possible authorities’ and ‘generally under the auspices of local authorities’, with the ASFP believing that such a structure ‘would be unable to address all the complex issues related to construction product testing, assessment, certification and installation’, and it called for a national level regulator.

ASFP chief executive officer Niall Rowan commented: ‘The bill seems to lay the path and take the first tentative steps towards implementing most of the recommendations from the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report. The devil, however, is in the detail of how this is followed up. Although this bill makes the primary enabling legislation, giving the necessary powers, we still need to see how the secondary legislation will be written and implemented to ensure that all the recommendations are met.

‘We believe the products and systems manufactured and installed by our members come fairly and squarely within any definition of “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 “safety critical” products and wish to make certain representations to ensure the correct outcome regarding the provisions for passive fire protection products and systems within the building safety bill.’