‘Folk literally won’t sleep at night if the Building Safety Bill doesn’t go further’

Lesley McLeod

By Lesley McLeod, chief executive, The Association for Project Safety

YOU’D think building safety would be a no-brainer. You design things carefully. Use quality materials. Employ well-qualified people. And adhere to the planning and building rules and regulations. But the shadow of Grenfell proves there remains a long way to go before our buildings are safe.

Let’s be clear, we must put mistakes right. There has to be help for people who can’t go to bed without fire marshals patrolling the corridors in case fire breaks out. Or whose homes can’t be sold.

But building safety should be a universal concern. And, perhaps, if everyone wasn’t so taken up with Boris and the seemingly endless accusations of partying, prejudice, and preferential treatment for political pals there might have been a bit more interest in the Building Safety Bill’s third reading before it goes to the House of Lords.

The Association for Project (APS), you would think, would be all for the proposed changes. And we are – as far as they go. They just don’t go far enough.

We have three key worries: the cost; the confusion; and the constraints. And an observation.

The cost, in part, for individuals and projects comes back to everyone’s old friend PI insurance. APS members are already telling us about price hikes, policy exclusions and brokers bowing out of the business. Add in the period of retrospection, when it comes to remediation of defects – along with proposals for new individual responsibilities – and insurance could become beyond the reach of all but those with the deepest pockets.

Bigger firms are saying they don’t much care for the risk. It could force sole-practitioners and consultants out of construction altogether. And this at a time when, post-Brexit and post-Covid, the sector is looking at escalating unfilled vacancies.

The possible confusion over the Principal Designer role is also a problem. As APS has been saying since the Bill was in draft, the new dutyholder role crashes right into the PD as described in CDM2015. This could cause confusion. And confusion is likely to make construction less safe. Not, I think, what the legislators were after at all.

And then there are the constraints of the Bill. The limited scope of the legislation is, in the view of APS, a missed opportunity to make construction safer across the board: there is more to building safety than fire risk. Concentrating almost exclusively on preventing a second Grenfell takes a very narrow view of construction safety when we could be taking this opportunity to raise our sights to the bigger picture.

And lastly there is the view from north of the wall. Increasingly building safety has a tartan tint in the devolved Scotland. I’m not making a political point one way or another, but the Bill is only about England. While Wales looks likely to adopt a similar approach, Northern Ireland never has. And, more and more, the Scottish rules are taking a different tack.

Things here had already changed to take high-rise fire risks into account. And the Scottish Government’s current consultation on developing a new compliance plan manager within the building standards that apply to specific high-risk building (HRB) types – as well as the definition of the HRBs and the fines when work breaks the rules – seems set to see the legislative framework diverge still further.

Britain remains a very small island and people work across the home nations. Maybe we ought to take a step back and make sure – regardless of where you stand on independence – we are all, if not singing from the same songbook, at least humming along to the same safety tune.