This statement by the Secretary of State is intended to reset the government’s approach to building safety, in particular as it affects leaseholders in existing buildings. It does not address those aspects of the Bill that relate to future practice. The announcement outlined the plans to protect existing leaseholders from the costs of putting right defective cladding and to make “the industry and those companies to blame pay for remediation of dangerous cladding”.
The measures announced include:
A new phase of the Building Safety Fund to accelerate removal of dangerous cladding from high-rise buildings, prioritising the highest risk buildings;
A new team to pursue and expose companies considered to be at fault, making them “fix the buildings they built and face commercial consequences if they refuse”;
New arrangements for building assessments including indemnifying building assessors from being sued;
Withdrawing the previous proposals for a loan scheme for medium rise buildings;
Withdrawing the January 2020 Consolidated Advice Note that had been widely misunderstood and was held to have led to too many buildings being declared as “unsafe”; and
New statutory protections for leaseholders within the Building Safety Bill.
Make financial contributions to a dedicated fund to cover the full outstanding cost to remediate unsafe cladding on 11-18 metre buildings, currently estimated to be £4 billion
Fund and undertake all necessary remediation of buildings over 11 metres that they have played a role in developing
Provide comprehensive information on all buildings over 11 metres which have historic safety defects and which they have played a part in constructing in the last 30 years
If there is not an adequate response then amendments to the Building Safety Bill will be implemented, which will allow the government to introduce a levy on developers of high-rise buildings.
Government is also supporting updated guidance, produced by the British Standard Institution and published on 13th January, for the assessment of the fire safety of external walls. PAS 9980 PAS 9980, Fire risk appraisal of external wall construction and cladding of existing blocks of flats – Code of practice, is freely accessible from BSI's Shop (requires a free Digital Rights Management plug-in which may not be compatible with corporate firewalls and security protocols). It is also available directly via the dedicated webpage. This requires the provision of some personal information. The PAS is available at no charge as its development was publicly funded.
The government’s ambition is for the new guidance to help fire risk assessors take a proportionate approach to the assessment of walls and avoid wholescale cladding replacement where it is safe to do so.
In the minority of buildings where valuers deem EWS1 forms are still necessary, the government proposes to introduce an indemnity scheme for building assessors to give them greater confidence to exercise professional judgement. Government also proposes to begin auditing building assessments to make sure that expensive remediation is only being advised where necessary to remove a threat to life. It remains to be seen how this will be received by those who are responsible for insuring those properties where there may not be a life safety risk but where they identify an increased risk to the property.
Data from lenders published on 10th January suggests that EWS1 forms are requested by lenders for fewer than 1 in 10 mortgage valuations for flats. Government continues to encourage lenders to continue to minimise their usage in medium and lower rise blocks.
Additional funding of £27 million was announced for fire alarms to be installed in all high-risk buildings to improve safety and end the use of costly waking watch measures paid for by leaseholders.
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