The LGA has been pressing for new guidance to prioritise fire risk assessments of the most high-priority buildings.
As first was going to press, the Fire Safety Bill was awaiting its final stages in Parliament before being given Royal Assent.
The Bill forms part of the Government’s response to the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died. It is one of a series of changes to fire safety and building safety more generally, with further primary and secondary legislation to follow.
The LGA has been calling for councils and fire services to be given effective powers and meaningful sanctions to ensure residents are safe – and feel safe – in their homes.
The Fire Safety Bill is a welcome step in the right direction, giving fire services more power to deal with buildings that have dangerous cladding.
Throughout the Bill’s progress, the LGA has been lobbying parliamentarians, and its briefing on the Bill was mentioned throughout debates in the Lords before Christmas.
During these debates, we sought to support the Bill’s main purpose while highlighting key areas of concern to councils, in particular around a requirement for duty-holders to review their fire risk assessments of buildings.
The Bill clarifies that cladding systems and fire doors need be included in fire risk assessments that building owners need to conduct; yet there is unlikely to be enough competent and insured assessors to update the fire risk assessments of all buildings that have external wall-cladding systems.
Councils should not be left in a position where they are required to update fire risk assessments but cannot do so because of a shortage of expert resource, the LGA believes. We also want to see the most at-risk buildings assessed first for fire risk.
The new requirements apply to all buildings with two or more flats in them, but most of these will not be high-risk compared to, say, a 20-storey block of flats.
Consequently, Lord Porter of Spalding, the LGA’s Fire and Building Safety Spokesman, put forward amendments addressing councils’ concerns around these issues at the Bill’s Committee Stage.
The amendments received cross-party support and, following further discussions with officials, the Government tabled two amendments as a compromise to Lord Porter’s proposals at Report Stage.
These will protect people responsible in law for residential buildings where they are genuinely unable to review their fire risk assessments, and prioritise higher-risk premises for earlier assessments.
Lord Greenhalgh, the minister, committed to ongoing consultation with stakeholders on how the guidance accompanying the Bill will work in practice. The Government has set up a task and finish group to look at this issue in detail, and the LGA is a member.
These amendments, made in the Lords, now need to be considered by the Commons. As first was going to press, a date had not been set for that part of the process.
The Fire Safety Bill is an important step in the right direction, but while councils are leading local efforts to support communities through the coronavirus crisis, the risk to residents in buildings with dangerous cladding systems remains.
The Bill needs to be backed up by further effective powers and sanctions, which we have been promised in the forthcoming Building Safety Bill; sufficient funding for councils to carry out the necessary inspections and enforcement activity; and additional support for blameless leaseholders affected by dangerous cladding.