NFCC

THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) welcomed the report on the bill from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLGC), which reflected ‘some of the issues and concerns put forward’ by the council.

The HCLGC report called on the government to ‘recommit to the principle’ that leaseholders should not pay towards the remediation of their buildings. It was ‘deeply concerned’ by the government’s ‘failure to protect’ leaseholders from ‘historic’ building safety costs’, and added that it was ‘especially disturbed by its commitment to protecting [them] from only “unaffordable costs”’.

The report added that such a move ‘would be unacceptable and an abdication of responsibility’, in making leaseholders ‘contribute a single penny towards the cost of remediating defects for which they were not responsible’. The Building Safety Bill proposes a building safety charge separate from service charges, which is ‘aimed to ensure that the building safety costs are clearly identifiable’.

However, despite ‘growing campaigns’ that call for leaseholders to be protected from such costs, clauses in the bill ‘permit’ building managers and owners to charge leaseholders ‘for these costs, even for issues that pre-date them moving in’. The HCLGC report listed individuals and groups that had said ‘they did not think any costs should be pushed onto leaseholders’, including the Health and Safety Executive.

For the committee, ‘quite simply, no one besides the government thinks the leaseholders should pay’, and it was ‘evident that the responsibility for the costs of remediation lay jointly between the industry and the government’. It recommended that ‘the only way to ensure’ such work was ‘done quickly’ was for the government to ‘forward fund’ it and ‘then pursue recouping the costs’, with the cladding funding so far ‘not enough’.

The HCLGC also called on the government to ‘provide much more detail on how the changes put forward’ would ‘work in practice’, as there are ‘some crucial gaps’ specifically around how different construction and management gateways would work, as well as construction product regulation. All of this, it added, should be ‘backed up by a clear timeline on when the new regime is to be put in place so that the industry can get ready for these changes’.

More guidance was called for on competencies and skills required for the building safety manager role, as ‘many housing associations have been confused exactly as to what these roles will look like and who would pick them up’. This role and other professions across design and construction of high risk buildings should ‘be subject to accreditation and national standards’, the HCLGC added.

Housing Minister Lord Greenhalgh had told MPs last month that leaseholders would be liable for ‘some costs’ where owners would not pay ‘and were not required to do so’ under lease terms, adding that the government was ‘determined to ensure the sums involved were fair and affordable’. The committee argued that the government, while also footing bills ‘in the short term’, needed to ‘develop mechanisms’ to recover costs from those responsible for ‘historic failures’.

It also warned there was a risk that freeholders might seek to recover costs of historic remedial work ‘through the building safety charge’, and criticised the ‘lack of detail in key areas’, while a central register of building safety managers was required. In its response, the NFCC said that it ‘welcomed’ the HCLGC’s comments, adding that ‘a number of recommendations in the report reflect some of the issues and concerns put forward’ by it in ‘evidence to the inquiry’ into the Grenfell Tower fire.

NFCC chair Roy Wilsher commented: ‘Whilst we have welcomed the significant step forward that this legislation represents, this important report reiterates a number of the key concerns that NFCC has expressed as part of the scrutiny process on this draft bill to date. There is continued confusion over how the provisions in this bill will interact with existing legislation and, specifically, how the roles and responsibilities of the responsible person, accountable persons and the building safety manager will be set out.

‘We welcome the committee’s call for greater clarity through statutory guidance, however we do not believe that a duty to co-operate will go far enough; NFCC believes there needs to be a designed “lead” accountable person. In terms of scope, we have called for a widening to include buildings such as care homes in the new build process from the outset.

‘Whilst the report does not go as far as we would have liked, it does conclude that scope should be widened in the future, taking particular account of the vulnerability of residents and their ability to evacuate the building. We also support the recommendation for the government to keep the development of modern methods of construction under review, as well as the publication of product test data.

‘We support the recommendation that the ability for clients to choose their own building control body should be removed across the entire sector, this is something NFCC has consistently called for. In addition, we welcome proposals to strengthen the process for assuring the competence of individuals engaged in design and construction.

‘In terms of costs, we continue to hold concerns about the costs of historic remediation being passed onto leaseholders. We do not believe that the costs of serious building defects should end with leaseholders and have called on government for support and to consider more ways of how costs can be recovered from those who design and construct buildings.

‘We have also suggested that any recharging mechanisms are clearly defined as relating to reasonable maintenance and upkeep costs only.’