The images of the burning Grenfell tower will remain in the memory of people across the country for some time to come. With the death toll still rising, and the identification of bodies continuing, the Government is keen to be seen to be taking action. It has recently published guidance to tenants concerned about fire safety in their buildings, and has published the terms of reference for an independent review of building regulations and fire safety. These publications could impact the landlords of high-rise residential buildings in both the short and long term.
Fire safety of your buildings: for tenants and residents was published by the Department for Communities and Local Government on 30 August 2017. The advice is minimalist in nature, and largely refers those with concerns to existing advice, published by the Government and the National Fire Chiefs Council.
However, the publication does advise that concerned residents should contact their landlord or building owner in the first instance. If residents aren’t reassured by the landlord’s advice, they should then contact either the local authority, the local fire and rescue service, or the Department for Communities and Local Government building safety team.
In order to prevent escalation to local or national authorities, landlords should be prepared to provide a clear response and reassurance where it is appropriate to do so. In anticipation for such correspondence, it may be prudent to prepare responses for each high-rise building, outlining the steps that have been taken to reduce fire related risks following the Grenfell tower fire, or explaining the systems and procedures in place to ensure that the buildings are safe. Please speak with Lukas Rootman or Jan Burgess if you would like assistance in preparing such responses.
The terms of reference for the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety were also published on 30 August 2017. The review, to be led by Dame Judith Hackitt, will report to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid.
The review will consider how effective current fire and building regulations are, in light of Grenfell, and will look primarily at how the current rules regulate and protect high rise buildings. The inquiry will also consider the findings of the government’s cladding testing programme, and consider whether any systemic failures have occurred. Initial reports suggest that panels taken from a significant number of local authority high rise buildings have failed safety testing and recommendations made in relation to this aspect of the review could be wide reaching.
The review is also tasked with providing reassurance that apartments within high-rise buildings are safe, and will continue to be safe.
The review will seek input from Government departments and other relevant stakeholders. Whilst the nature of this input is unclear at this stage, landlords, asset managers and owners of high-rise buildings may wish to contribute to any formal consultation process. Again, please contact Lukas Rootman or Jan Burgess if you would like assistance with preparing a consultation response.
An interim report is expected in Autumn 2017, with a full report due in the Spring of 2018. The independent review will cooperate with the public enquiry, being led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick and will consider its findings. Sir Martin opened the public enquiry on 14 September 2017, promising that he will “not shrink away” from making recommendations that could lead to civil or criminal prosecution. Owners and managers of tower blocks should follow the public enquiry and independent review closely in light of their possible recommendations.