New safety plans for multi-occupied residential buildings in Wales announced

Welsh Government Housing Minister, Julie James MS has set out extensive reforms which, if approved by the Senedd, is claimed would provide residents with a stronger voice on matters affecting their homes.

Proposals in the Building Safety White Paper cover all multi-occupied residential buildings, from a house converted into two flats, to a high-rise apartment block.

The White Paper sets out major reforms to the way we design, build, manage and live in properties so that safety is observed at all stage of a building’s lifecycle, whilst proposing clear lines of accountability for building owners and managers as well as a stronger regulatory system.

It also includes:

  • Clear lines of accountability, creating dutyholders with the appropriate knowledge and expertise, who will be legally responsible for safety and reducing fire risk throughout the lifecycle of the building;
  • An enhanced programme of checks during construction to support evidence of compliance;
  • The creation of two risk categories, with a ‘Golden Thread’ of up to date information about design, construction and ongoing maintenance required for all buildings of 18 metres or over;
  • A duty for building to contain the capacity to contain a fire where it originates for long enough to allow it to be extinguished.
  • A wholly new means for identifying and reducing risks of fire in blocks of flats. This will be easier for landlords and others to understand and apply, and more effective in reducing risks to residents;
  • A process for residents to raise building safety concerns;
  • A single process for escalating concerns to the regulator.

The Welsh Government has already taken a number of steps to improve building safety. Last January, following a change to regulations, the use of combustible materials in cladding systems was banned in Wales. This applied to all new residential buildings (flats, student accommodation and care homes) and hospitals over 18m in height.

Julie James MS

Julie James said: “In the wake of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, the Welsh Government has already taken action to make buildings safer for residents.

“It’s always been clear, however, that far more fundamental changes were needed to improve building safety in the round.

“That’s why we are proposing improvements to every stage of the life-cycle of multi-occupied buildings, from design, through construction and into occupation, so new buildings are safe for each and every resident.

“Most importantly, these proposals are designed to empower residents by giving them far more say in the matters that affect their homes and providing clear channels for them to speak up and alert those responsible when things go wrong. Those who own and manage our buildings must live up to their obligations to put things right.

“These proposals, if passed into law in the next Senedd term, will create a new and much improved regime which puts the safety of residents first.

The plan has not been universally welcomed however, with some commenting that the proposals do not go far enough.

Robert Jervis Gibbons, UK Policy & Public Affairs Manager at Electrical Safety First commented: “The Welsh Government’s Building Safety Plan must go beyond its current scope to protect residents in high rise buildings from the risks electricity can pose. As the plan stands it fails entirely to prevent a fire before it has started, instead focusing prominently on safety once a fire has occurred. Unless it is reviewed to tackle the source of fires effectively it will fall short of protecting residents.

“Electricity is responsible for more than 60% of domestic fires in Wales and it is deeply regrettable the Welsh Government has failed to acknowledge this real risk to residents. We urge the Government to reconsider its proposal and to include five yearly mandatory electrical safety checks. Without doing so, this plan will fail to adequately protect residents in Wales.”

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