One of the most talked about building safety concerns is the risk of fire. And is there any wonder? For nearly 6 years following the Grenfell disaster, residents of apartment blocks have either been living with the fear of not knowing whether their building is at risk, or they know they’re at risk but not to what extent, or they are fully aware, and their building management company have taken all the precautions necessary to try and safeguard them. All whilst leaseholders are unable to sell, restrictions on activities increase and building management companies prepare to deliver against the requirements of the Building Safety Act 2022 (BSA) and the new Building Safety Regulator (BSR) – or are they?
The press over the past few weeks has begun reporting on some of the first court cases of building owners and property management companies failing to comply with fire safety legislation. In February 2023 Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service took the decision to prosecute under Article 32 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, resulting in the hearing at Leicester Crown Court. During sentencing, general fire precautions, fire risk assessments, communication, having a competent person and maintenance of the building were all called out as failures. Between the parties they were fined a total of £180,000 and received a 2-year conditional discharge.
And in southeast London, residents of a 94-flat building have filed legal action against Grey GR, a wholly owned subsidiary of Railpen, the pension scheme for railway workers, in a hope they will be granted a remediation order to compel their freeholder to force them to make fire safety remediations required, at an estimated £10m. This coming as a last resort after 2 years of attempts by the leaseholder’s association to engage Grey GR to resolve these life threatening issues. In this particular case, a fire risk assessment using PAS9980, suggested the building was “tolerable”, providing the fire compartmentation works were completed, however this work has not yet been done.
With the BSR opening registration for high-rise buildings (residential buildings 18m or higher, at least 7 floors, and 2 or more residential units) in April 2023, the pressure on building management and owners has never been higher. The government’s “Make Buildings Safer campaign” and message of “be ready”, “step up” and “act now” may come across as a little nannying, but the evidence shows this is sorely required. Plus, when Lee Rowley, the building safety minister spoke at the National Housing Federation’s building safety conference on 22nd February, he referred to Railpen and Grey GR, saying: “We will continue to pursue them until they do right against their residents”, sending a very clear message that these remediation works must be undertaken as soon as possible and delay tactics will not be tolerated.
The BSA identified new responsibilities for the safety of high-rise residential buildings in England and these responsibilities include registering high-rise residential buildings with the BSR. The BSA introduced two new roles, Accountable Persons (AP) and Principal Accountable Persons (PAP) and it is the PAP who is required to register high-rise buildings from April 2023. There’s a great video only 1:32 minutes long explaining APs and PAPs here.
we believe this is only the beginning. Building management companies and owners appear to have their head in the sand and are not going to act until it becomes financially advantageous to do so. They appear not to know what is expected of them, nor do they have clearly defined responsibilities assigned to individuals accountable for making the changes happen. Which means the changes will not happen! we also find some of the language used in standards such as PAS9980 disrespectful to the magnitude of risk being assessed. The term “tolerable” indicates even after the remediations suggested at The Taper Building in southeast London are completed, that there would still be a risk to fire that could have been addressed by more comprehensive remediation?
So, what can be done? We believe industry can have a huge role to play here and it is our duty to lend as much assistance as we can. As experts in the cladding remediation and fire safety market, Intelligent FS are well positioned to help. With a combination of new legislation and consultation services around the much more robust FRAEW and our Golden Thread Analysis, we can quickly define areas that need to be addressed and work with you to achieve 100% compliance, both for the BSR, but more importantly for your residents, making their building safer from fire.