Demonstrating compliance and getting insurance could be challenging, warns Andrew Mellor
The announcement about building safety made by housing secretary Robert Jenrick on January 20 has given the industry greater understanding of the forthcoming legislation for “residential” multi-occupancy buildings and the advice to existing building owners.
I say “residential” because the consolidated advice note issued by MHCLG on the same day makes it clear that it relates not only to dwellings (apartment blocks) but also to institutional residential buildings including hospitals. It further states that the advice relates to buildings of all heights and not just those over 18m. Previously the advice on facades focused on buildings over 18m.
The proposed Fire Safety Bill, also announced by Jenrick, will ensure that periodic fire risk assessments include facades and flat entrance doors, where previously they typically did not. These assessments, of course, will apply to relevant buildings of all heights.
The RICS published its external wall fire review form, EWS1, in December. It is intended to provide a standard format for experts to use to inform mortgage valuers whether an apartment block’s facades and/or attachments (such as balconies) contain combustible materials. The form was primarily to be used for buildings over 18m but the MHCLG’s consolidated advice note means lenders are now already very likely to be requesting it be used for apartment blocks of all heights.
The latest consultation on the combustible materials ban for new building work, also published on January 20, considers the inclusion of hotels, hostels and boarding houses which sit in the “residential (other)” purpose group, and the lowering of the trigger height of the legislation from 18m to 11m.
The secretary of state also announced that the HSE will lead the new Building Safety Regulator. At the last consultation stage it was proposed that the Building a Safer Future legislation would apply to residential apartment blocks over 18m and not to lower heights or other building purpose groups.
Therefore the situation regarding what building safety legislation and guidance applies to which building type and purpose group is getting more complex – and it is going to change over the next 12 months.
One can imagine an insurer may consider not insuring a building built to the relaxed regulations
The changes are such that we are likely to have different requirements for certain purpose groups and with differing trigger heights over the 12 months before all the legislation is in place and transitional periods have elapsed.
Even after that, we may have differing requirements and trigger heights.
Designers, developers and building owners will therefore have to ensure they are anticipating the changes and that schemes are meeting the legislation and guidance.
The consultation relating to the combustible materials ban proposes that a relaxation may be adopted for 18 months of the requirement for non-combustible cavity trays in masonry facades that do not have a masonry inner leaf.
This is to allow suppliers to develop suitably compliant products. While sensible, it seems this may cause further problems in the future. One can imagine, on the basis that non-combustible cavity trays were required before and after this relaxation, that an insurer may consider not insuring a building built to the relaxed regulations.
Furthermore, a building owner may not easily be able to justify that facades are safe when preparing a safety case for submission to the new regulator, if precedent potentially shows that other solutions are available.
One would think, of course, that the regulator would have to accept the inclusion of the combustible cavity trays as part of the safety case as they were allowed by legislation at the time. But, with legislation changing and interpretation varying in these trying times, nothing can be taken for granted.
The industry understands why the building safety legislation is being introduced and the overall benefits to those who use the buildings.
However the ongoing elemental changes to legislation and guidance will mean that demonstrating compliance, now and in the future, could be challenging.
Andrew Mellor leads the development consultancy team at PRP. The practice has been advising MHCLG and conducting research around policy and building regulations.