Wales seeks to extend fire safety regime to all multi-occupancy residential buildings

The Welsh Government has launched a consultation seeking views on extending fire safety requirements to all buildings in Wales featuring more than one residential unit.

While the proposals largely mirror the Draft Building Safety bill for England published by UK Government last year, the White Paper proposes creating two categories of building, one 18 metres or more (or more than 6 storeys) in height and a second up to 18 metres in height.

All buildings 18 metres or above containing more than one residential unit will be required to use the Local Authority’s building control service, or a neighbouring authority’s service if there are capacity issues or a conflict of interest.

Buildings falling within the new, lower-height category will face new fire safety requirements, though the consultation states that the majority of these focus on the building during occupation rather than at construction stage.

New proposals building on England’s Draft Building Safety Bill

England’s Draft Building Safety Bill currently focuses on buildings 18 metres or more in height. In Wales, these will be known as Category 1 buildings. Lower height multi-unit residential buildings will be known as Category 2.

According to the White Paper, “…the scope of the Wales Building Safety Regime covers all multi-occupied residential buildings…meaning the regime would capture a house converted into two flats, a licensed HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy) through to a high-rise apartment block.”

Worker accommodation, such as NHS flats, hospitals and care homes, military barracks, prisons, hotels, and single flats above commercial premises would be out of scope.

While the proposals outlined in the UK Bill will be carried over, including project Gateways, dutyholder roles and a ‘Golden Thread’ of information, the Wales proposals seek to add additional consultation in the Gateways phase. This would be in the form of a public subset of data from the ‘Golden Thread’ data, and additional dutyholders for the occupation phases, as well as specific management and reporting requirements.

Subset of ‘Golden Thread’ information to be made public

The ‘Golden Thread’ of design and construction information described in England’s Draft Building Safety Bill will only apply to Category 1 buildings in Wales.

However, the White Paper proposes the introduction of a Key Dataset, a subset of publicly-available information required for both Category 1 and Category 2 buildings. While the data to be made public for Category 2 buildings is quite generic, for Category 1 the consultation proposes listing:

  • Façade and structure information
  • Dates and outcomes of Gateway points and Safety Case reviews
  • Current and past dutyholders, including accountable persons

Gateways: Fire safety to be consider at land-use stage?

Gateways would only apply to Category 1 buildings. The paper suggests that prior to Gateway 1 (the first of three Gateways proposed in England’s Draft Building Safety Bill), the relevant fire authority could be consulted at the Local Plan (plan-making) stage, to consider water availability, access for vehicles, evacuation points and so on.

Extending the involvement of the fire service, the paper indicates plans to consult later in 2021 on legislation that would require all developments providing 10 or more houses, flats or rooms providing sleeping accommodation to consult with the fire authority at planning application stage.

At Gateway 1, applicants should prepare a Fire Statement that “sets out features, such as access routes of particular dimensions or alignments, which need to be maintained to allow safe occupation of the building. This will help planning authorities and highway authorities to consider the ongoing requirements of the tall building, prompting them to consider how these features can be safeguarded from encroachment by inappropriate new development, such as intensive uses next to access routes which would increase obstructive parking.”

At Gateway 2, dutyholders would be required to provide their strategy for how they will comply with Building Regulations as well as set out how they intend to manage and control safety. The White Paper proposes that Gateway Two be a ‘hard stop’, where a development would be halted pending a satisfactory outcome.

Significant refurbishments that require planning permission should start at Gateway 1. Where planning permission is not required and building regulations apply to the refurbishment or change of use then Gateway 2 will be the starting point.

Dutyholders for the design and construction phase

The Draft Building Safety Bill from UK Government gives Wales powers to set their own dutyholder regime, though this is similar to the English proposals. Five roles will be created and they will apply to all buildings in scope of the proposed building safety regime:

  1. Client
  2. Principal designer
  3. Principal contractor
  4. Designer, covering anyone associated with the project who will prepare or modify any design, or delegate the work to another provider
  5. Contactor, covering any construction work or alterations

New dutyholders for the occupation phase

The first of two proposed new dutyholders will be the Accountable Person, who will have a legal responsibility for the safety of the whole building used for residential purposes. The new role will apply to all multi-unit residential buildings (ie both Category 1 and Category 2), and they may need to be registered before occupation can begin.

They will be supported for Category 1 buildings only by a new Building Safety Manager. They will provide practical additional support to the Accountable Person, having a “closer day to day responsibility for the management of the building and completing the more practical tasks.”

These dutyholders will be required to:

  • Conduct annual fire risk assessments through a suitable qualified professional
  • Takes steps to maintain adequate compartmentation
  • Create and maintain a safety case – Category 1 buildings only
  • Report significant incidences or events to a new Building Safety regulator for Wales

The Welsh consultation is open until 12 April 2021 and details can be found 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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