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The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has announced his far-reaching plans for safer buildings. With the announcement comes an extensive Implementation Plan. “Building a Safer Future” commits the government to a programme of reform over the coming years which will:
The Industry Response Group of the MHCLG Hackitt work stream has been working to deliver on Dame Judith’s recommendations. IRPM has assisted this work, focussing on the role and responsibilities of the Building Safety Coordinator. This is a new role, which will likely require a qualification of its own. In big buildings at least, it is likely that the Building Safety Coordinator will not be the traditional property manager but rather someone that will work with the manager, ensuring the safety of the building and its residents. Government is focussing only on buildings 30m/10 storeys tall for the moment but this is under review. Also, the risk management extends to all building health and safety, not just fire risk.
Government is pushing hard to ensure that residents have a stronger voice on building safety issues in future and that landlords and building managers have the tools and powers they need to ensure that buildings are safe now. For example, if a building manager needs to enter a unit to check safety (for example, a breach of fire compartmentation) the legislation will be required for the manager to enter, also to recover the cost of carrying out necessary works. The voice of residents will also be very important going forward; they need to know how the building will be managed safely and have the ability to challenge and to report concerns.
Alongside the implementation plan, MHCLG has also published a Call for Evidence which invites views on how residents of multi-occupied buildings can best be supported to help keep their homes and buildings safe. The Call for Evidence is available here. Please follow the link and submit your responses to government, copied in to IRPM on firstname.lastname@example.org
While broadly supportive of the recommendations, IRPM is pleased to see that its cautionary note has been picked up in the Implementation Plan. The plan continually refers to making the building owner the ‘dutyholder’, responsible for the safety of its residents. If the dutyholder fails to protect the residents, the dutyholder is in the firing line, liable to criminal prosecution and potentially prison. IRPM absolutely understands and can see the good sense in making one individual ultimately responsible for safety. The dutyholder is likely to require some degree of competency, even if that is limited to making sure a safe property manager is employed and checking that the manager is managing risk well.
The difficult bit (which Mr Brokenshire alludes to briefly in para 2.18, page 20 of the plan) is when the residents are effectively the owners of their freehold, through an RMC for example. One of the directors could be required to take on the role of dutyholder and expose themselves to the risk of criminal prosecution if something goes wrong. Combine this with the government intention to give residents more control over the management of their buildings (which in principle is laudable) and to remove ground rents and thus third-party landlords for new builds going forward and it isn’t hard to see how this could get thorny. Requiring owner-leaseholders to achieve a level of safety competency is ambitious. Also, persuading residents to stand as directors can be tricky already and setting out their path to prison if they fail to ensure safe management will add to that challenge.
IRPM wants to see the good work of Dame Judith Hackitt delivered and residents to feel safe in their homes. It is encouraging to see the Minister acknowledge there are challenges to some aspects of implementation and IRPM will continue to work positively with government to deliver the best possible solutions, assisted by its effective Health and Safety Working Group, which is made up of some of the country’s leading H&S experts actively working in the residential management sector.
The government announcement and link to the Implementation Plan is here.