Post-Grenfell legislation set to have huge impact on the construction industry: Phil Morrison

A slew of legislation post-Grenfell is slowly but surely coming into force which will have a massive impact on the construction sector – many believe the wholesale overhaul of the fire safety and building regulations is the biggest change to hit the industry in 25 years.

While the Building Safety Act 2022 (BSA) has been much discussed, its complexity and the volume of secondary legislation accompanying it means that many property and development businesses are not yet fully up-to-speed with what is expected of them.

The most urgent action is the requirement for all higher-risk buildings (those above 18m or at least seven storeys which contain two or more residential units) to be registered with the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) by October 2023.

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The principal accountable person is legally responsible for ensuring that the building is registered. Those who fail to comply could be prosecuted, resulting in reputational damage, as well as it being an offence for that building to be occupied. With the regulations estimated to affect around 12,500 existing buildings and fairly detailed information needed, owners, landlords and agents would be well advised to start preparing immediately.

File photo dated 16/02/21 of The Grenfell Tower in LondonFile photo dated 16/02/21 of The Grenfell Tower in London
File photo dated 16/02/21 of The Grenfell Tower in London

The extensive information required by the BSR by this autumn covers a description of the building and the building control details, when it was constructed, and includes how it was built and the materials used. While, in theory, developers and landlords should have all these details to hand, the reality of contractors and sub-contractors subsequently designing-down from what was originally specified, means that identifying the actual materials used may not be straight-forward.

Since April 2023, the BSR has become the building control authority for high-rise residential buildings with the new system giving it considerable powers. While it is not yet clear what approach the BSR will adopt, the legislation has been a long time coming and is being taken very seriously.

While the purpose of the Act is, of course, to prevent another tragedy like Grenfell, its reach extends beyond tighter regulations around cladding for high rise buildings and, in fact, imposes wide-ranging reforms to bolster the regulatory regime of all construction products in the UK. Covering both new builds and refurbishments, it will affect all new residential dwellings, and creates potential new causes of action against manufacturers for defective materials. The BSA even sees changes to responsibility for repairs which move from leaseholders to landlords and developers.

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In conclusion, in the wake of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Grenfell report which referred to systematic failures which perpetuated a culture of indifference, we appear to be transitioning into a new regime with the former ‘light touch’ ethos of the industry almost being left to police itself, now moving to a more heavily regulated environment.

Our advice is to quickly get to grips with the latest legislation, take legal and technical advice as soon as possible, and make sure that your entire team is aware of the new requirements. The BSA has a massive impact on the whole sector and marks a new attitude – if it succeeds, it will be a game-changer to safety in the construction industry.

Phil Morrison is a partner at Clarion