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Building owners face crackdown under powers proposed in new Fire Safety Bill

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The fire brigade will be able to ‘hold owners to account’ if they do not ensure fire-safety in their buildings, under changes contained in the government’s Fire Safety Bill

The bill, which will apply to England and Wales, will amend the Fire Safety Order 2005 to clarify responsibility for reducing fire risk in multi-occupancy residential buildings.

Under the plans, building owners will now face ‘enforcement action’ from emergency services if they do not manage fire risk in a building’s structure and external walls, as well as indoors where individual flats open on to common areas.

The Fire Safety Bill will also provide a foundation for secondary legislation to implement the recommendations made in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report.

This will mean building owners and managers of high-rise, multi-occupancy residential buildings will be responsible for new areas, including:

  • regular inspections of lifts and the reporting of results to the local fire and rescue services;
  • ensuring evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated and personal evacuation plans are in place for residents whose ability to evacuate may be compromised;
  • ensuring fire-safety instructions are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand;
  • ensuring individual flat entrance doors, where the external walls of the building have unsafe cladding, comply with current standards.

The Fire Safety Bill will also give the housing secretary the powers to change which buildings fall within the scope of the Fire Safety Order.

The government said this was to enable it to ‘respond quickly to developments in the design and construction of buildings’.

Andrew Mellor, partner at PRP, said: ‘The proposed content of the bill does raise a number of issues which building owners and managers need to be aware of and must start preparing for in anticipation of the bill becoming law, possibly as soon as this summer. 

‘For those who own or manage residential buildings, the requirements will impact further on costs and resource allocation for investigating buildings and ensuring compliance.

Mellor added: ‘With so many existing residential buildings in England and Wales, the question remains how the industry will be able to undertake the volume of assessments required given the current shortage of fire safety experts.’

National Fire Chiefs Council chair Roy Wilsher welcomed the bill, saying: ‘We look forward to seeing additional supportive measures to assist fire and rescue services, identify different types of cladding and take appropriate measures.’

Local Government Association building safety spokesperson and Conservative peer Gary Porter said: ‘This bill is a positive step but needs to be backed up by further effective powers and sanctions, which we have been promised in the forthcoming Building Safety Bill, and sufficient funding to carry out the necessary inspections and enforcement activity.’

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