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Fire safety in private sector high-rise buildings (pdf)
Published: 16th November 2016
“This Committee wants to see further urgent action from the Welsh Government and believe legislation should be brought forward as soon as possible which would tighten up standards around important safety measures such as fire doors and minimum requirements for those undertaking fire risk assessments.”
– Committee Chair, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East)
1. A new law and/or fire safety regulations are urgently needed
Fire safety rules governing high-rise buildings are currently covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – which was introduced by the UK Government for EnglandandWales.
However, the regulations only cover communal areas in high-rise buildings, not individual flats – which are governed by a wholly separate law (I return to this later).
The subject matter of the Order was only devolved to Wales in April 2018 and the Welsh Government say the powers under which it was made have been repealed, so a completely new Bill was needed.
The Committee recommended that such a Bill be introduced in the current Assembly term.
2. Problems don’t start and stop at cladding
The Welsh Government are confident that all buildings in Wales with the same cladding involved in the Grenfell disaster have been identified and the fire service said nobody in Wales was living in an unsafe block. However, the Committee heard that at least one of the buildings (“Property 4”) was a generally “sub-standard build” which has since had interim measures applied.
There was a particular concern about fire doors (above). Many involved in the Grenfell disaster were advertised at giving 30 minutes protection but only lasted 15 minutes at best. The Committee recommended the Welsh Government gives priority to addressing concerns about fire doors and specify that all doors should give a minimum of 30 minutes protection.
It wasn’t clear whether the 2005 Order (mentioned earlier) covers fire doors due to legalese confusion over whether the front door of flats count as part of the communal area covered by the Order.
In addition, social tenants are provided with personal evacuation plans in the event of a fire, but this isn’t widespread within the private sector.
3. The fire service should be directly involved in the design of new developments
Witnesses from Wales’ fire services told the Committee they were often involved too late in the design stage of new developments to have a major impact. Very often they can only advise and give observations.
North Wales Fire & Rescue Service also said that during construction builders will often encounter problems that don’t appear in the plans and they often have to work out how to solve by themselves with minimum supervision.
There was strong support by the Committee for detailed fire and structural safety specifications to be submitted with planning applications. They also endorsed recommendations from the Hackett Review that developers no longer be able to choose their own inspector to provide regulatory oversight during construction; local authority building control inspectors were only selected for 40% of high-rise developments in Cardiff, the rest presumably came from the private sector.
4. Leaseholders shouldn’t be liable for the cost of remedial works
Many leaseholders in affected buildings have had to endure what is described as “a year of worry and uncertainty”. They may not be aware of their rights and responsibilities in taking on a leasehold and it was still unclear to many of them as to who should pay. Some cases in England which have gone to tribunal have found leaseholders to be liable for the works.
The Welsh Government position is that private leaseholders shouldn’t pay and some developers are paying for remedial works – such as Bellway at Cardiff’s Prospect Place.
There was support from the Committee for calls from the Residential Landlords Association for a low-interest loan fund to be set up to cover the costs, but they recommended the Welsh Government liaise with the UK Government to find a common solution.