17th July 2020

Change is inevitable as fire safety bills progress through parliament 

Contribution from: Alex Oldman, Client Relationship, Civica

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak announced the next budget would provide an additional £1bn to tackle fire safety in social housing. This statement was cautiously welcomed as the fund will be available for both the public and private sectors to redevelop buildings with a height limit of 18 metres, or above. 

However, the question remains as to whether £1bn will prove enough, with housing association L&Q estimating its costs at around £450m alone. And what about financial support for buildings under 18 metres?

The removal of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding already received funding of £600m last year. This further billion is to tackle the removal and management of non-ACM cladding systems, including high-pressure laminated (HPL) wood and other cladding identified by the Independent Expert Advisory Panel.

It’s expected that registered social landlords (RSL’s) have already established the materials in their buildings and have made plans to efficiently manage future risk. Most RSL’s have set up resident safety panels to make sure residents are safe, and feel secure in their homes. The adoption of technology is key to ensure resident’s guidance is valued and can be acted upon.

Enhanced risk assessments necessitate the collection of an enormous volume and a greater complexity of information than has been gathered before, along with the expert analysis of risks. This expertise is both hard and expensive to find and reorganisations are inevitable to align asset management and operational compliance.

Hackitt refers to a ‘Golden Thread’ of building safety information lasting the full lifecycle of the building. The Golden Thread is now becoming more visible as organisations connect processes and systems for end-to-end accountability e.g. the efficient handover from construction to operations. More than ever, information must be properly managed as risks are mitigated and planned so responsive repairs occur. Organisations need to be clear from the outset on their asset management information process efficiency.

Digital twin refers to a digital copy of a building information. Like any good parent, organisations are now seeking technology that can understand and process BIM information – realising the Golden Thread.

Looking to the near future, Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations come forward as two key pieces of legislation. The Fire Safety Bill is at committee stage, while the Building Safety Bill has yet to commence parliamentary scrutiny. Meanwhile the Hackitt early adopter trials (Building Safer Future Charter) continue to test policies and practices. Much is being learned and much is changing.

Ultimately, what is clear for modern RSL’s is that much more complex information will be required to make informed business decisions to ensure compliance and mitigate risks.