Following the Grenfell disaster, the Housing Secretary James Brokenshire has announced a consultation on banning the use of combustible cladding on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings.

This alert highlights:

  • A wide range of interested parties and sectors – including industry, housing providers and authorities – have until 14 August 2018 to respond. The government is legally required to consult on substantive changes to the buildings regulations before any change in the law
  • There may be legal implications, including retrospective law, that could affect a wider scope of building regulations involving the environment, waste, thermal insulation and energy targets
  • Whether or not the scope of the overall consultation is sufficient (e.g. by not fully examining the implications of using combustible cladding in non-residential buildings above 18 metres in height), and also by not examining whether other legislation requires commensurate amendment - or is capable of such amendment (e.g. where it derives from European directives)

The consultation

In his consultation, the Secretary of State poses five substantial questions:

  • Do you agree that combustible cladding should be banned and (if yes) how?
  • Should the ban align with fire regulations and apply only to buildings over 18 metres in height?
  • What should be the standards of combustibility for wall construction?
  • Should the ban also affect all wall components and construction elements, including windows and balconies?
  • Should future regulations include risk-based assessments for existing buildings?

Key points

The Housing Secretary is clear that the consultation is a key stage in achieving a “change in the law to achieve meaningful and lasting reform of the regulatory system, with strong sanctions for those who fail to comply”.

This goes further than Dame Judith Hackitt who, in her review of fire safety and building regulations, had recommended that a simpler but more robust approach to the construction and on-going management of high-rise residential buildings was needed.

It would also appear to be a short-term anomaly that only residential buildings will be affected, with the consultation asking specifically for responses on whether or not any new legislation will also involve other constructions, including hospitals, schools and business premises.

New legislation may also have unforeseen consequences for other regulations, including the environment, waste and thermal insulation. It seems that many forms of combustible cladding are also excellent insulators, but a complete ban may have serious ramifications, with landlords facing huge building costs and unable to meet the latest energy performance regulations.

Many of the solutions will be highly technical in nature, and will be for the construction sector and industry experts to resolve. For now, the advice to owners is to take expert advice to ensure that their buildings comply with the existing building regulations.

But with so many issues to consider, there are question marks over whether or not the consultation process is sufficiently robust and fit for purpose – and too limited in scope. Within the construction industry, the property sector, owners, occupiers ands residents groups, there are many diverse views - and achieving consensus is unlikely to be easy.

Bevan Brittan Pre-Consultation Survey

The consultation asks some wide-ranging questions, and - with the process closing on 14 August - there is not a lot of time to respond. Bevan Brittan is undertaking a pre-consultation survey in order to gain input from our clients and colleagues. Please could you take 5 minutes to complete the questions in our survey.

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