I am delighted that the Government is introducing an entirely new regulatory regime for high-rise buildings, that will take a proportionate, safety first approach. The Building Safety Bill will set out a clear pathway on how residential buildings should be constructed and maintained. I would like to take some time to set out some of the changes that this important legislation will implement.
The Building Safety Bill will embed a Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive, which will oversee the new building safety regime. The Regulator will be responsible for ensuring that any building safety risks in new and existing high-rise residential buildings of eighteen metres and above are effectively managed and resolved, taking the cost into account. It will also hold to account those who break the rules and are not properly managing building safety risks, including taking enforcement action where needed.
Central to this world-class regime are the residents at its heart, which is why the Bill will give residents a stronger voice in the system, making it easier for them to seek redress and to have their voices heard. The Bill will require an accountable person for a high-rise residential building to engage with their residents and establish a formal complaints process for residents to raise concerns. A Residents’ Panel will also be created, which the Building Safety Regulator will consult on matters of interest and importance for residents of higher-risk buildings.
On top of this, the Government is more than doubling the amount of time that residents can seek compensation for substandard construction work, extending claims under the Defective Premises Act from six to fifteen years. These changes will apply retrospectively. It is important to know that new measures will apply to those seeking compensation for shoddy refurbishments which make homes unliveable.
I am also encouraged by the publication of new advice from fire safety experts which makes clear that the overwhelming majority of lower-rise buildings (under eighteen metres) with cladding should not require expensive remediation. In the small number of cases where there are known to be concerns these should be addressed primarily through risk management and mitigation. Where it is necessary and proportionate to remove cladding, the Bill will introduce a legal requirement for building owners to explore alternative ways to meet remediation costs, along with evidence that this has been done. This builds on the Government’s commitment to fully fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in residential buildings eighteen metres and over in England where the building owner has not paid, with an unprecedented £5 billion investment in building safety.
Of course, it remains the case that building owners are expected to cover remediation costs wherever possible where work is required, not the leaseholder or taxpayer. To this end, the Bill will introduce a new levy and a tax to ensure that industry pays its fair share towards these costs.
I have been following this important legislation closely and I am aware of amendments seeking to add additional measures to the Building Safety Bill. Well-intended though these are, I do believe that the Bill already makes substantial provision to create a proportionate building regime whereby the right people are held to account.
Problems with cladding and other fire safety defects are typically a result of a failure to comply with building regulations. Therefore, while an unprecedented £5 billion investment has been made in building safety to fund the remediation of dangerous cladding in high-rise buildings (eighteen metres and over) where remedial work is required, it has been made clear that government funding does not absolve building owners of their responsibility to ensure their buildings are safe. The Bill will help to ensure that the property development industry pays its fair share towards these costs through the introduction of a Building Safety Levy and a UK Residential Property Developer Tax.
The new proportionate building regime will tackle bad practice head on, and I must stress that tougher sanctions will be brought against those who threaten safety. The introduction of the New Homes Ombudsman will see sanctions imposed upon developers who fail to comply with its code of practice for workmanship, while the extension of the Defective Premises Act will provide a legal route to redress that is not currently possible for hundreds of buildings, potentially benefitting thousands of leaseholders.
Moreover, it is my understanding that the Building Safety Charge will only cover the ongoing costs of the new building safety regime, giving leaseholders assurance, transparency, and protection in relation to ongoing building safety costs. It has been made clear that it is the responsibility of the building owner or responsible person to ensure the safety of residents, and I am glad that the Government has called on them to do all they can to protect leaseholders from remediation costs.
A cornerstone of the Building Safety Bill is the establishment of the New Homes Ombudsman, which all developers will be required to join and remains members. Those who breach this requirement may be subject to additional sanctions. I am encouraged that the Ombudsman will introduce a code of practice about the conduct and workmanship of its members and will require developers to provide redress to homebuyers where necessary, including through the awarding of compensation.
Ensuring that everyone has a safe and high-quality home must be a top priority and I am pleased that considerable steps have already been taken to improve our housing. An independent review of the system for testing construction products has been launched, led by two experts. The panel will engage with a wide range of stakeholders and examine how to strengthen the current system to provide confidence that materials are safe and perform as marketed.
Building on this, the Building Safety Bill will strengthen the regulatory framework for construction products, underpinned by a market surveillance and enforcement regime led nationally by the Office for Product Safety and Standards. The national regulator will be able to remove products from the market that present safety risks and prosecute or use civil penalties against any business that breaks the rules and compromises public safety.
I am confident that these reforms will tackle bad practice head on, building on the recommendations made in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.