NFCC ‘pleased’ to see fire safety bill announcement

23 March 2020

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) said it was ‘pleased to see’ that the bill had been introduced, especially its inclusion of measures that the council ‘has been calling for since 2017’.

In the government’s announcement, it stated that the new bill would build ‘on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes, and a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire never happens again’. In December last year, the new government’s Queen’s Speech saw building safety and fire safety bills introduced, with the fire safety bill supporting findings from the Grenfell inquiry’s first phase.
 
These include ‘main benefits’ such as providing residents with ‘reassurance’ on fire safety and making it clear that building owners and managers know they are ‘responsible for assessing the risks of external walls and fire doors’. A clarification that the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [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 this year, 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 is also set to work alongside local authorities and 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, it was revealed that the government would include a requirement in the bill for fire doors in all flat blocks to be checked every three months, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) asking building owners if quarterly inspections were ‘feasible’.
 
The bill was introduced to ‘improve fire safety in buildings in England and Wales’, and ‘builds on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes’. It 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.
 
These include the structure and external walls of a building, including cladding, balconies and windows, and entrance doors to individual flats ‘that open into common parts’, with this clarification to ‘empower’ FRSs to take action ‘and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant’. It will also provide a ‘foundation’ for secondary legislation to ‘take forward’ the inquiry’s recommendations.
 
These cover responsibilities of building owners and managers of high rise and multi occupant residential buildings, including ‘regular’ lift inspections and reporting results to FRSs; and ensuring evacuation plans ‘are reviewed and regularly updated’, as well as personal evacuation plans being in place for residents ‘whose ability to evacuate may be compromised’.
 
Others include ensuring that fire safety instructions ‘are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand’, and ensuring that individual flat entrance doors ‘where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding’ comply with current standards. The bill will also give Housing Secretary Robert 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’. In its response, the NFCC noted it was ‘pleased to see’ the new bill ‘includes measures NFCC has been calling for since 2017’, and that it means FRSs ‘are empowered to take enforcement action – and hold building owners to account if they are not compliant’ – with FRSs having ‘never had these powers for external walls before’.
 
For the NFCC, there had been ‘some ambiguity’ about individual flat front doors, but it hopes the additional powers ‘speed up the remediation’ of cladding ‘by taking action against those who are not compliant’. It added however that there need to be ‘additional supportive measures in place’ with regards to identifying different cladding types, and in meeting the costs of any additional work FRSs undertake.
 
Roy Wilsher, NFCC chair, commented: ‘I am pleased to see the announcement of the new Fire Safety Bill. NFCC has been calling for these powers since 2017 and these changes should contribute to the public feeling safer in their homes. We look forward to seeing additional supportive measures to assist fire and rescue services, identify different types of cladding and take appropriate measures.
 
‘We now need to see the detail of the secondary legislation, which will take forward recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report. NFCC is looking forward to engaging with the Home Office at the earliest opportunity, as this is where the nuanced details will sit. It is essential this achieves positive fire safety outcomes.’
NFCC ‘pleased’ to see fire safety bill announcement