Welcome to The Week That Was, a round-up of key events in the construction sector over the last seven days.

Building heights and risk – new rules this next week

Prior to the Grenfell disaster of 14 June 2017, the Building Regulations and Approved Document B applied significantly different building safety regimes depending on the height and categorisation of a building. Under Approved Document B, a stricter regime was applied to buildings at least 18 metres above ground level. Even stricter rules applied to buildings which either: (i) contained one or more dwellings; or (ii) contained an institution; or (iii) contained a room for residential purposes (excluding any room in a hostel, hotel or boarding house).

The Building etc. (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022 came into force on 1 December 2022. This amendment will remove the exclusion of "hostel, hotel or boarding house" accommodation from the stricter regime applying to residential accommodation. At the same time, and in parallel, the Building Safety Act 2022 will provide for the Building Safety Regulator to regulate "higher risk buildings" in England and Wales, with the stated aim of ensuring proportionate steps are taken to deal with building safety risks through prevention, control, mitigation and ongoing management throughout the lifecycle of a building. The definition of a “higher-risk building” under the Act is potentially much wider and means a building that: (a) is at least 18 metres in height or has at least 7 storeys; and (b) contains at least 2 residential units; and (c) is of a description specified in the regulations. It is not known at present whether both schemes will cover the same buildings.

For more information, please see here.

Industry group to press for passive fire safety measures

Tier one contractors have been asked to work with the new Passive Fire Knowledge Group (PFKG) in an effort to drive cultural change through the design and construction process in order to improve fire safety in buildings. Members of the PFKG include tier one contractors, specialist installation companies and trade associations, who will seek to promote passive fire protection guidance and the delivery of well designed, specified and installed passive fire protection from planning and early design stages, through to construction. The initial focus will be on education, process and testing issues relating to the design and specification of passive fire protection for compartmentation and in particular sealing for service penetrations and compatibility with fire resisting partitions.

For more information, please see here.

Government announces £1bn of funding for new insulation

The Government has said it will spend £1bn from Spring 2023 on grants for homes with low energy efficiency ratings and in lower council tax bands in an effort to reduce households' energy bills. The grants are aimed at helping households fund low-cost measures to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes, such as new loft and cavity wall insulation. The average cost per household is expected to be £1,500, with potential savings on bills of around £300 per year. To qualify for the grant, households must have an energy efficiency rating of G or below and live in properties covered by council tax bands A to D. Those eligible for support will be able to contact their energy supplier, who will pay for the improvements.

For more information, please see here.

Government launches second consultation on Building Safety Levy

The Government has launched a second consultation on the Building Safety Levy proposed under the Building Safety Act 2022. This consultation will remain open until 7 February 2023. The consultation has proposed that the levy will apply to developers of residential buildings regardless of the building's height, despite an earlier consultation suggesting that only higher risk buildings would be subject to the levy. However, the consultation indicates that affordable housing, NHS facilities, care homes and small developments will be exempt from the levy. Under the new proposals, 60 percent of the levy will be payable before work commences, with the remaining 40 percent payable before final certification of the development. Should payment not be made, the local authority may refuse final certification or impose punitive fines on developers. While the consultation does not specify when the levy will come into force, it is expected that this will happen at some point in 2023.

For more information, please see here.

New forecast predicts stagnation in construction in Europe

The November forecast by Euroconstruct has predicted that construction in Europe will stagnate in the next two years, with growth slowing to 0.2% in 2023 and 0% in 2024. This contrasts with a previous forecast of 2% growth in 2024, highlighting the impact of recent events in Europe on the construction sector. In particular, the ongoing war in Ukraine, the tightening of the financial market, and problems with construction material availability and costs have all been cited as factors which have caused growth to slow. The UK is predicted to be one of the worst performing countries in Europe in 2023, with construction activity forecast to shrink by 0.4%. The UK's deteriorating outlook has been blamed on a reduction in residential construction work due to the Bank of England's increase of interest rates to 3% in October.

For more information, please see here.