Written evidence submitted by Cambridge City Council/3C Shared Services Building Control, a strategic partnership between Cambridge City Council, Huntingdonshire District Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council [BSB 348]
JOINT RESPONSE: 3C Shared Services Building Control, Cambridge City Council
Terms of Reference of Consultation
How well does the Bill, as drafted, meet the Government’s own policy intentions?
The draft Bill includes a number of objectives to bring together the Building Act 1984, Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1984 and any prescribed function of the regulator including securing safety of people and improving building standards and this is welcomed.
Fire safety perspective: For buildings within scope it does appear to meet the policy intention in the main.
Building Control perspective: the new regime does appear to complicate the existing building control system. There are already issues with the public versus private option and this is now adding another layer (the BSR) to the complexity for houseowners/ occupiers notwithstanding the cost of such. This could provide some doubt in respect of who ultimately has the authority and this needs to be clear.
Section 52: The register of specific relevant information provided to building control is welcome, however concern is expressed over both the management, control (in respect of data protection etc) and cost allocation of maintaining a national electronic register/portal. In practice there are issues with obtaining information from the relevant persons in order to, for example, issue completion certificates, it is regularly noted that competent person scheme notifications are not submitted within the required notification period. Is it the intention the national system will incorporate submission of all applications for building control, or will there be a two-tier system, which may again cause confusion and is there clarity on who will be responsible for administering such a system, ultimately a cost.
Section 64: The accountable person will be required to apply for Building Assurance Certificates, that should provide some comfort on the safety of the building. Ultimately how does this differ to the completion certificate in the current regime.
Does the draft Bill establish an appropriate scope for the new regulatory system?
The scope identifies two types of buildings: higher-risk (section 19) defined in the draft Bill as a building of prescribed description (the Secretary of State will prescribe what this is) and high rise, defined as a building over 18m.
Fire safety perspective: The intent of the system is to be flexible in the future if required. Many of the issues highlighted following Grenfell apply equally to other types of buildings some of which can be ‘higher-risk’ even if under 18m.
CCC has existing 5 storey blocks of flats that may present a higher risk than new 6 storey blocks that will be subject to the proposed building safety regime.
A review of this should follow a period of implementation and bedding in and potentially other types of premises considered such as sheltered housing/residential care where vulnerable people are at risk or student accommodation/ rooms for residential purposes. A risk assessed approach to bring specific premises, either existing or proposed new build, ‘into scope’ could be an approach going forward.
There is however a risk with the resource required to manage and deliver this, particularly as the scope includes existing buildings. Again, the fact the Regulator will have oversight of the building safety and performance systems applying to all buildings may cause confusion.
Will the Bill provide for a robust – and realistic – system of accountability for those responsible for building safety? Are the sanctions on those who do not meet their responsibilities strong enough?
Yes, providing the ‘accountable person’ is identifiable for the purposes of compliance, and appointing a Building Safety Manager given that this can be an individual, partnership or corporate body and can be more than one Accountable Person for a building therefore requiring cooperation and coordination as per the Fire Safety Order.
The sanctions provide the ability to fine Building Safety Managers (and Building Control Approvers) for non-compliance (or impose prison sentences), this will need to be followed through in practice to ensure a clear message is given. The timescale for prosecutions for breaches of the Building Regulations has been increased to up to 10 years (from the current 2 years) and this is welcomed by LABC who have long considered this to be a failing and a contributory factor to the issues currently existing within building control.
Will the Bill provide strong mechanisms to ensure residents are listened to when they have concerns about their building’s safety?
Yes, provided this is managed appropriately. Residents are at the centre of the new regime. The bill promotes participation of residents and flat owners in decision making about building safety risks. Accountable persons are required to produce a resident engagement strategy (gateway 3).
There is already resident engagement in place in Cambridge and not just for higher-risk buildings. Again, there is value in extending this beyond residential buildings of a set minimum height.
Part 5 of the draft Bill requires the Secretary of State to establish a scheme for all developers, to allow complaints to be made to a newly established New Homes Ombudsman within two years from date home was purchased, this is welcomed based on the experience of building control professionals and the aspiration the profession has for quality build. There are also powers to make developers join and sanctions for poor quality workmanship. Anecdotal experience would indicate this is long-awaited.
Section 67 requires the accountable person to also appoint a Building Safety Manager before the building becomes occupied. This can be a corporate body, however there is still a requirement to nominate an individual person from within that body. If this is not done, this could result in a prison sentence or fine or both and again provides a mechanism for residents.
There is also the Residents’ panel committee (section 11) that affords the regulator a forum to consult before issuing or revising guidance and obtain practical input form the end user.
Existing occupied buildings will be transitioned into the new regime.
Is the Government right to propose a new Building Safety Charge? Does the bill introduce sufficient protections to ensure that leaseholders do not face excessive charges and that their funds are properly managed?
Maybe - the draft Bill updates the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, placing express duties on residents of higher-risk buildings to keep their property in good repair and to cooperate with Building Safety Managers, and this is considered relevant. The residents also have responsibility for ensuring such items as gas boilers are regularly serviced and kept in good working order. The Accountable Person may serve a notice should this not be the case, however the practicalities of this need to be fully realised, experience dictates this may be difficult.
There is also mechanism for charging tenants for building safety costs incurred whilst carrying out building safety work. The resident engagement strategy allows for the landlord to provide detailed cost information about such works to tenants although they are not allowed to charge for any enforcement action by Regulator. In our opinion, this must be managed appropriately.
Does the Bill improve the product testing regime in a way that will command the full confidence of the sector?
Yes, the Secretary of State is to establish a new regulatory system for construction products marketed in the UK identifying designated products. Any safety critical products that present a risk, may be withdrawn from the market. This is considered appropriate.
Is it right that the new Building Safety Regulator be established under the Health and Safety Executive, and how should it be funded?
Given the status of the HSE as an independent regulator and the fact it has a wide range of experience of workplace safety and working in partnership with stakeholders this could be appropriate. Enforcement is taken aware from the local authority on higher risk buildings (not limited to fire safety and structure). The BSR is effectively replicating some of functions carried out by Local Authorities.
However, as alluded to in the above responses, this could create even more confusion and provide some doubt on the validity of local authority being the regulator particularly for out of scope buildings. This will need very clear messaging.
The relevant authority has the power to charge fees and recover charges for and in connection with the performance of any of its functions, or under an instrument made under this act, this therefore allows for the fees to be prescribed or determined by the Regulator. This would need to ensure the local authority is appropriately remunerated to ensure there is no additional burden placed on the general fund.
Does the Bill present an opportunity to address other building safety issues, such as requirements for sprinkler systems?
Maybe - The intent of the Bill will hopefully also set the standard for other buildings whether ‘higher-risk’ or not as experience and the problems in the construction sector regarding fire safety and how it has been viewed in the past, suggest these reforms should be extended to other buildings as outlined above. In this sense the Bill does provide an opportunity to address a range of building fire safety issues.