Housing providers call for more support as building safety poses threat to new development

The UK’s largest housing associations have warned that without more support to help implement building safety, the construction of new, much-needed affordable housing could be put on hold.

Describing the safety of residents as “non-negotiable”, the sector’s representative body the National Housing Federation (NHF) also called for more funding, a balanced risk-based approach to prioritising remedial works, and a “smooth and planned” transition to new legislation.

Yet there is confidence that laws designed to improve the construction and ongoing management of new buildings will ensure that developments are better built and better maintained than ever, helping to keep residents safe.

A challenge 30 years in the making

During a presentation at Housing 2021, Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the NHF, described remediation works and new management regimes introduced via the Fire Safety Act and the Building Safety Bill as a major challenge “30 years in the making.”

She warned that the housing providers most affected by the legislation had potentially inherited older towers that had been subject to improvement works to improve thermal efficiency, and were the associations most likely to be planning to build more new affordable homes.

She said: “The building safety crisis has definitely had a more of an impact on those housing associations that have developed in the last 25 to 30 years, especially in cities. We need them to keep developing. They have the most development expertise and we still have a housing crisis, we need more homes.”

Geeta Nanda, Chief Executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing and chair of the G15 group of housing associations, said the focus on resident safety and remediation of existing buildings could impact on planned maintenance for other housing stock.

“Housing associations are assessing the likelihood of requirements and putting these in their business plans,” she said. “You can stop building new homes but you cannot stop the repair of existing homes. Some may delay planned maintenance in order to deal with spikes in expenditure.

“It is a balancing act but safety will always come first. The issue is not knowing the exact scope of what needs to be done.”

The need for prioritisation and time

Mark London, Partner at legal firm Devonshires which acts for a number of registered housing providers, warned the compliance with the Fire Safety Act would be very difficult because there are insufficient numbers of suitably qualified people to carry out external wall inspections.

He said: “The immediate question is: how does an association prioritise which (existing) buildings to look at? There is a fairly big disconnect in my opinion between what the Government wants to do politically, what it wants to be seen to be doing, and the actual ability of the sector to be able to cope with it. There is a very wide gulf between those two things.”

Geeta Nanda called for the creation of a central resource consisting of qualified and knowledgeable people, information and clear instructions to help providers tackle the riskiest buildings first.

Kate Henderson said funding needed to be made available for remediation of affected social housing, arguing that costs could be “recouped later from those responsible” for issues.

“Funding should be based on level of risk and priority, not specific tenure and building height,” she said. “We want a risk-based approach – the highest risk to be fixed first, regardless of who lives there.

“We took on these buildings that were fully compliant and we need funding to remediate. Without it, we face tough choices – we may develop less, we may go slower on the green agenda, or invest less in our existing homes.”

A better future for new buildings

Mark London was more upbeat on the impact of the new legislation for the construction of new buildings 18 metres or taller.

“Going forward I’m optimistic, because we’re already doing things differently,” he said. “Tall buildings that are being constructed now are being built with Building Information Modelling, with everything being documented to the nth degree.

“So in 20 years’ time, stuff that was constructed after 2021 is going to be pretty good. Going forward, then, we don’t really have a problem.”

Early project intervention to manage risk in taller buildings has proved popular and successful for LABC Warranty’s in-house Major Projects Service. You can find out more about the how the service works here.

 

Please Note: Every care was taken to ensure the information in this article was correct at the time of publication. Any written guidance provided does not replace the reader’s professional judgement and any construction project should comply with the relevant Building Regulations or applicable technical standards. However, for the most up to date LABC Warranty technical guidance please refer to your Risk Management Surveyor and the latest version of the LABC Warranty Technical Manual.

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