Government Responds to Grenfell Tragedy With New Building Safety Regulator

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster and continuing concerns about building safety, the Health and Safety Executive will be taking on a new role

The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published the draft Building Safety Regulator Bill ahead of pre-legislative scrutiny, in which the Health and Safety Executive is formally named as the new regulator of building safety.

The government has asked HSE to establish a new building safety regulator in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster and following recommendations in the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report by Dame Judith Hackitt.

On 14 June 2017, a fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats in North Kensington, West London, causing 72 deaths and more than 70 injuries. It was the deadliest structural fire in the United Kingdom since the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster and the worst UK residential fire since the Second World War.

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Design and materials

The fire was started by a malfunctioning fridge-freezer on the fourth floor, but spread rapidly up the building’s exterior, bringing fire and smoke to all the residential floors due to the design and materials of the building’s cladding, the external insulation and the air gap between which enabled a ‘stack effect’. The building burned for about 60 hours before finally being extinguished.

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The Grenfell Tower Inquiry began on 14 September 2017 to investigate the causes of the fire and other related issues, with findings from the first report of the inquiry released in October 2019 addressing the events of the night. It affirmed that the exterior did not comply with building regulations, but a second phase to investigate the broader causes began on the third anniversary in 2020.

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The government commissioned an independent review of building regulations and fire safety, which published a report in May 2018, and across the UK and in some other countries, local governments have investigated other tower blocks to find others that have similar cladding.

There are estimated to be about 600 high-rise blocks of flats in the UK that have similar cladding, and fire safety tests carried out on 120 of them had a 100% failure rate.

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Regulatory system

Efforts to replace the cladding on these buildings are continuing, but activists have complained that progress is slow. Paul Dennett, mayor of Salford, said that there were still flaws in building safety regulations, adding: “Two-and-a-half years on from Grenfell and very little has happened. The whole regulatory system is not fit for purpose. There is real frustration.”

The new regulator will oversee the safe design, construction and occupation of high-risk buildings so that residents are safe and feel safe. It will be independent and give expert advice to local regulators, landlords and building owners, the construction and building design industry, and to residents.

For the draft Building Safety Bill visit gov.uk here.

The new building safety regulator is part of the government’s wider building safety programme which is helping building owners to take immediate steps to make sure that residents of their buildings are safe. You can read the latest advice for owners of high-rise buildings on the government’s website.

The building safety regulator will:

  • Implement a new, more stringent regulatory regime for high risk residential buildings
  • Promote competence among industry professionals and regulators to raise standards in design, construction and the management of buildings
  • Oversee performance systems of all buildings, so one regulator can provide guidance on building performance as well as building safety, ensuring that factors like countering climate change are factored into regulatory decisions
  • To establish the building regulator HSE is working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, the Home Office, Local regulators, building control bodies, building owners, housing providers, the construction industry, the Local Government Association, Local Authority Building Control and the National Fire Chiefs Council.

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Building safety

Meanwhile, as it’s important that tenants and residents feel safe in their homes, HSE advice is that you should in the first instance, contact your landlord or building owner. If you are still concerned, you should then contact your local authority or local fire and rescue service for advice, and if you do not feel that the issue has been sufficiently dealt with, you can contact the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government building safety team.

HSE and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government are consulting with representatives from local and devolved government, industry and citizens before bringing any new regulations into law.

The draft Building Safety Bill will be examined by a Parliamentary committee who will report with feedback and recommendations before the Bill is finalised. The government will also work with stakeholders on areas that need refinement or further consultation to finalise measures.

The Bill will then be introduced formally in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. If it progresses through all stages in Parliament, the Bill will then be presented to the Queen for her formal agreement where it then becomes an Act and the powers come into force.

Among the measures promised in the new Bill are:

  • There will always be someone responsible for keeping residents safe in high rise buildings – those 18 metres and above.
  • Residents and leaseholders will have access to vital safety information about their building
  • There will also be a new national regulator for building safety, within the Health and Safety Executive. The regulator will appoint a panel of residents who will have a voice in the development of its work.
  • Leaseholders won’t pay unaffordable costs for historic repairs to their buildings.
  • We will continue to engage with stakeholders, including leaseholders, on this issue while the draft Bill is being scrutinised.
  • Insurance issues around building safety will be addressed. A new ‘building safety charge’ will make it easy for leaseholders to see and know what they are being charged for when it comes to keeping their building safe. There will be powers to limit the costs that can be re-charged to leaseholders.
  • New build homebuyers will have their right to complain to a New Homes Ombudsman, protected in legislation, and developers will be required to be a member of the scheme. The New Homes Ombudsman will hold developers to account, including the ability to require developers to pay compensation.

See also:

Safety standards

Together, measures in the draft Building Safety Bill, Fire Safety Bill, and Fire Safety Order consultation will improve safety standards for residents of all blocks of flats of all heights, with even more stringent approaches and oversight for buildings in scope.  

The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published the draft Building Safety Regulator Bill ahead of pre-legislative scrutiny, in which the Health and Safety Executive is formally named as the new regulator of building safety. You can subscribe to a free HSE building safety email bulletin here.

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