by Chris Waterman
The Building Safety Act 2022 is the most significant piece of legislation affecting the construction industry for many years.
The Act finally became law on 28th April 2022, after being considered as a draft bill (published 20th July 2020), and then a bill (published on 5th July 2021), each of which occupied the House of Commons for many months. The Building Safety Bill was also considered by the House of Lords, line by line, for many days.
I'm well aware of the difficulties of getting any legislation onto the statute book, and a bill of this scale and scope demanded very detailed attention by the politicians and their advisors. Inevitably many vested interests were lobbying to protect their own interests against those of other interested parties.
Those who paid the most immediate and heaviest price following the fire at Grenfell tower were those who lost family members and who themselves were significantly harmed physically and or mentally. Many others lost their friends, community, and homes as a direct result of Grenfell. Many tens of thousands are still living in homes that they do not feel are safe.
The importance of primary legislation is that it is, quite literally, the letter of the law. For this reason, it is quite difficult for the layperson to understand exactly what is going on as much of the legislation is amending previous legislation.
The policymakers and politicians will have heaved a huge sigh of relief when the building safety act finally received the Royal Assent. However, getting the reforms onto the statute book must seem, to the construction industry, just the first step along a long and winding road.
Introducing primary legislation is relatively simple compared with the task of reforming the culture of a construction industry whose reputation is in tatters.
Everybody involved in the construction industry is now under a legal duty to behave in accordance with the radical reforms in building safety law. More important than the letter of the law is how the industry meets the spirit of the law.
In the next couple of years, the new regulatory regime for the construction industry will gradually be implemented, principally by the building safety regulator, which is part of the health and safety executive.
However, the greatest burden and the greatest responsibility must fall on the designers, developers and contractors who themselves must take account of the secondary legislation which is beginning to be issued.
While the industry is focused on the remediation of buildings that must be made safe, there are new issues being raised by for example, RAAC, modern methods of construction (MMC), and lithium ion battery fires.
We have only just embarked on the long and winding road towards building safety.
Chris Waterman is the author of The Plain Guide to the Building Safety Act 2022.