Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced in January ‘the biggest change in building safety for generation’, including a new regulator, changes to height limits and new consultations, with the new measures to ‘go faster and further to improve building safety’, and the new building safety regulator to be ‘established immediately’ within the Health and Safety Executive.

‘Clarified and consolidated’ advice for building owners, proposals to extend the combustible materials ban and a consultation to lower mandatory sprinkler limits were launched, while a construction expert was appointed to review timescales and ‘identify what can be done to improve pace in the private sector’ in terms of cladding removal. A consultation was open until 17 February on the combustible ban, proposing to lower the 18m threshold to ‘at least’ 11m.

The sprinklers consultation last year saw the government propose lowering the height threshold for new buildings, with ‘detailed proposals’ to come on how a technical review of fire guidance will be delivered. Building has now reported on the new fire safety programme, which will require all residential buildings above six storeys to be covered by the new regulator, while those above 11m in height ‘will need sprinklers’.

This formed part of a series of releases related to fire safety, including the government response to the aforementioned consultations. Mr Jenrick stated that the new regime would apply to all buildings six storeys or taller ‘even when they are below 18m in height’, a change from the government’s previous perspective that the regime would ‘only cover buildings at or above 18m in height’.

The plan is to ‘retain that threshold’ but include any other buildings six storeys or more in height that are below 18m, and would ‘in due course, extend to include other premises, based on emerging risk evidence’. An impact assessment said this was ‘likely to mean’ that costs for industry ‘of meeting the regulation’ would increase ‘by about 10% above that previously envisaged’.

Mr Jenrick also confirmed that from May, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government would ‘effectively ensure’ sprinkler installations in all residential buildings above 11m in height via an amendment to Approved Document B of the Building Regulations, with this also to ‘call for improved and consistent signage’ in buildings to help residents evacuate in a fire.

Other initiatives include link ups with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and mortgage lenders to ‘ensure that those living in existing buildings with cladding now deemed to be unsafe were able to access mortgages and insurance’. A three stage ‘gateway review’ for all new projects would be overseen by the new regulator, with ‘clear legal duties to comply with regulations’ placed on clients, designers and contractors.

‘Much more stringent’ enforcement measures will back up the new system, with the regulator able to stop work on site and hand out criminal sanctions. Mr Jenrick stated: ‘This new regime will put residents’ safety at its heart, and follows the announcement of the unprecedented £1 billion fund for removing unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings in the Budget.’

Last June, the Home Office launched a call for evidence relating to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO], alongside a government consultation, ‘seeking views’ on the FSO from both employers and business owners as part of changes being made since Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety was published in May 2018.

That call for evidence ‘complement[ed]’ the Building a Safer Future consultation, which ‘outline[d] how the government proposes to take forward meaningful legislative reform in the building safety regulatory system’ and resulted in the most recent announcement. With the FSO, most recently, as part of its announcement on the fire safety bill, the government published a summary of the responses received.

Last December, building safety and fire safety bills were introduced to ‘learn the lessons’ from Grenfell, with the former to ‘place new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products’, and both aiming to strengthen the ‘whole regulatory system’ for both building and fire safety.

Main elements of the fire safety bill include a clarification that the scope of the FSO ‘includes the external walls of the building, including cladding’ as well as ‘fire doors for domestic premises of multiple occupancy’. ‘Relevant enforcement powers’ to hold owners and managers ‘to account’ would be strengthened, while a ‘transitional periods’ for these roles, the responsible person and the fire and rescue services (FRSs) would ‘assist’ in placing infrastructure

In January, more details were released including the requirement for building owners to ‘fully consider and mitigate’ the risks of external wall systems and individual flat doors, as these changes would ‘make it easier to enforce’ where owners have not remediated combustible cladding ‘by complementing the powers under the Housing Act’.

The government will work alongside local authorities to support ‘enforcement options’ where ‘there is no clear plan for remediation’, as building owners are ‘responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe’. Most recently in February, the government included a requirement in the bill for fire doors in all flat blocks to be checked every three months.

The bill will amend the FSO to ‘clarify’ that the responsible person or dutyholder for multi occupant residential buildings ‘must manage and reduce’ the risk of a series of elements, and give Mr Jenrick the power to amend lists of qualifying premises that fall within the scope of the FSO ‘by way of secondary legislation’.

The government noted that this would enable it to ‘respond quickly to developments in the design and construction of buildings’; while a number of supplementary actions being taken to improve building and fire safety at the same time as the bill.  These include the £1bn funding for cladding removal, and the Fire Kills campaign relaunch.