The implications of this week’s announcements and their impact on the industry and leaseholders will only become apparent in the coming months, writes Andrew Mellor

Andrew Mellor_PRP_crop

On Monday in the House of Commons, Michael Gove made a series of announcements with regard to building safety. In fact, he made so many announcements in quick succession that it was difficult to keep up with his speech at times.

The speech was one that he had advised would be made before Christmas but was delayed for some reason, quite possibly to enable further detail to be added to the proposals. However, the element of surprise was thwarted by parts of the announcement being seemingly leaked to the press a few days before.

Gove announced that the consolidated advice note on building safety, which was introduced in January 2020, has now been withdrawn. It is to be replaced with the new PAS9980, which will be formally published by BSI this week.

The PAS is to be used by suitably qualified persons to assess the fire risk of external walls on multi-occupancy residential buildings. Gove said that the government is supporting the use of proportionate risk analysis, which I assume to mean the use of PAS9980 as an assessment method, and he further advised that the government scheme to indemnify external wall assessors will be launched before Easter.

The scheme may well be the government-backed professional indemnity insurance for fire engineers that has been expected, however competent persons using PAS9980 may not always be fire engineers particularly given the current shortage of such engineers. So where does this leave others who undertake the assessments and all those who are asked to undertake PAS9980 assessments in the short term considering the immediate switch from the consolidated advice note to PAS9980?

As I understand the statements, remediation work deemed unnecessary from a risk to life perspective will not be funded, saving all of the associated costs and resource impacts

It was announced that there will be a second stage of the external wall remediation fund for residential buildings over 18m. Gove said that this will be risk-driven, suggesting that the proportionate approach to risk that he and his advisors have been talking about for some months is indeed to be adopted.

Therefore, as I understand the statements, remediation work deemed unnecessary from a risk to life perspective will not be funded, saving all of the associated costs and resource impacts. However, the RICS, mortgage providers and insurers will have to align with this approach if leaseholders in all apartment blocks are to be financially protected.

Gove wants the developers and product suppliers to pay for the remediation of the small number of buildings in England between 11 and 18m high that have external walls deemed to pose a risk to life. This follows the Treasury’s refusal to provide more funding. No residential leaseholder in a building over 11m will have to pay for external wall remediation costs.

Considering the proportionate approach to risk, Gove said the government believes that risks posed by the external walls of some 11 to 18m buildings can be mitigated by the use of measures such as sprinklers and fire alarms. While I believe that the level of external wall remediation proposed by some assessors is unnecessary and can be reduced – or in some circumstances not required at all – the use of internal mitigation measures to deal with external fires is not often a viable solution.

The announcements also included news that the Fire Safety Act will be formally introduced shortly, and that the Building Safety Bill will be amended to change the retrospective limitation period of the Defective Premises Act to 30 years from the previously proposed 15 years. This decision has consequences for the industry and my last article provided an overview of the implications of this anticipated change

Many MPs congratulated Gove for some progressive announcements but there were also so many questions from the members, the majority of which could not be answered with any substance. There is so much more to understand about how the policy and guidance changes will be implemented and what the short term and longer term impacts for the industry and leaseholders will be.

The next few weeks and months will therefore be very interesting as we wait to see the reactions from industry and what further detail Gove and his team provide.

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