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Safety within buildings?

The dreadful events at Grenfell Tower leading to the death of 72 persons were now over five years ago. A public inquiry was established to examine the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire. A list of issues was divided into two phases – Phase 1 examined the factual issues and led to a report and recommendations issued on 30 October, 2019. Phase 2, delayed by the Covid pandemic, will look at wider issues including building regulations and enforcement.

Some of the Phase 1 recommendations have been addressed by the government including amended fire regulations and the Building Safety Act, 2022 (having received royal assent on 28 April, 2022) which “contains provisions intended to secure the safety of people in or about buildings and to improve the standard of buildings (s1 of the Act). The Act is lengthy and complex but will, it is hoped, go some way to preventing another Grenfell Tower. Issues, which relate primarily to England, will be overseen and regulated by a ‘Regulator’ whose duties include facilitating building safety for higher-risk buildings and keeping safety and standards of buildings under review. A higher-risk building is at least 18 metres in height or has at least 7 stories and contains 2 or more residential units (s65 of the Act). The Act is to be enacted over a period of time.

Since the Grenfell fire, one of the issues which has grabbed the headlines is the cost of replacing cladding on many residential buildings (the cladding at Grenfell Tower was a major factor in the speedy spread of the fire in the building). Thousands of leasehold owners in buildings across the country have found that the substantial cost of remedial works are included in their service charge and, leaving aside the huge sums themselves, have made the sale of their homes impossible. The Act enables those with an interest in a building to take action against a manufacturer and protects leaseholders from paying costs due to be paid others for unsafe cladding. Landlords must exhaust other options for payment before looking to their tenants (whose contributions will be capped). A public fund has been established to assist with funding of required remedial works. The limitation period for commencement of legal action has been extended primarily to catch original developers who have used unsafe cladding materials. Time will tell if the Act will promote safer buildings.

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