The legislation comes five years after the Grenfell Tower fire, which revealed that the building industry was unable to regulate itself and exposed the widespread practice of using flammable cladding systems on tall buildings.
Officially coming into existence today are two new regulatory offices: the building safety regulator; and the national regulator for construction products.
The building safety regulator – overseen by the Health & Safety Executive – will enforce a new regulatory regime on the safety and performance of multi-occupancy high-rise buildings in England. It will also consult and respond to safety concerns raised by residents through a new residents’ panel.
The national regulator for construction products – already known in some quarters as the cladding police – will implement standards on construction manufacturers in the UK. Part of the Office for Product Safety & Standards, it will conduct market surveillance to spot and remove unsafe materials, as well as take action against those that break the rules.
The new legislation also protect leaseholders from the cost of replacing flammable cladding systems. Those responsible for historical safety defects, and those who own buildings, are instead now required to fund essential repairs.
Measures in the act include new powers for the relevant secretary of state (traditionally the environment secretary, but these days the ‘levelling up’ secretary) to restrict the ability of errant developers’ to build new homes, an extension of the building safety levy worth an estimated £3bn and improving building owners’ rights to launch legal action against developers.
Some 45 of the UK’s biggest housing developers have agreed to fix life-critical fire-safety defects on all buildings of, or higher than, 11 metre that they have played a role in developing or refurbishing in the last 30 years.
Levelling up secretary Michael Gove said: “Today marks a major turning point for building safety in this country, as we introduce a tough new regime to make homes safe and help rid the sector of bad practice once and for all.
“Hundreds of thousands of innocent leaseholders now have the legal protection they rightly deserve, freeing them from a financial burden they should never have faced.
“I’m pleased that most of the largest developers have agreed to play their part in solving this. But there is more to do – we are focusing intensively on work with lenders to unlock the mortgage market and empower leaseholders to take their next step on the property ladder, and we will remain vigilant if anyone fails to act on the pledges they have made.”
However, the Local Government Association (LGA) would like to see social housing tenants have the same protection that is now offered to homeowners.
“If councils and housing associations are not protected from the cost of fixing dangerous cladding and other fire safety defects those costs will inevitably fall on rent-payers,” said Cllr Darren Rodwell, the LGA’s housing spokesperson. “The government must also exempt social housing from the forthcoming levy.”
The government has also signed contracts for a new professional insurance indemnity scheme for building surveyors. This comes after underwriters took action to reign in what they considered to be excessive exposures. The new scheme will help assessors conduct external wall system (EWS1) fire risk assessments, restoring proportionality to the market, the government said.