England building safety regs are behind other countries, says RIBA

England’s building safety regulations lag behind other countries, including Scotland and Wales, and reforms proposed by the Government need to be reformed, according to architects.

In its response to the Government’s Building a Safer Future report issues in response to the deadly Grenfell Tower fire, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) tells ministers
England lags behind in implementing baseline regulatory standards to ensure the safety of buildings.

The institute warned that parts of the Government’s proposals for reform need heavy revision if they are not to add to the state of confusion or lead to conflicts of interest and is calling for a complete overhaul of the building regulations in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

But it welcomes many of the proposals, in particular tighter regulation of higher risk residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height, rather than 30 metres plus which was originally recommended by the Government’s 2018 Independent Review of Building Regulations on Fire Safety.

The institute also urges the Government to widen the scope of the new regulatory system to apply to non-residential buildings of any height, including places where vulnerable people sleep, such as care homes, hospitals, hotels, hostels, prisons, as well as schools and places of assembly, during the design and construction phase.

It is also asking for significant changes to the responsibilities for all duty holders based on the Construction (Design and Management) regulations model as the duties proposed are not clearly defined and are not currently workable as set out in the consultation, particularly on design and build projects.

It wants to see the Architect’s Registration Board (ARB) designated to oversee enhanced competence requirements of architects and points out that as regulator the ARB should be responsible for the accreditation and licensing of architectural qualifying bodies, including the RIBA, who will hold registers for competent architects to work on buildings in scope of the proposed regulatory framework.

RIBA says all technical guidance issued to industry should be improved by the new Building Safety Regulator and this should include setting baseline prescriptive requirements for fire safety and reviewing all relevant British Standards guidance documents, particularly those relevant to fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings.

‘Although a step in the right direction, the Government’s proposals do not go far enough to protect the public and more work is needed, particularly to more clearly define the statutory duties of all involved in the industry,’ said Jane Duncan, chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety.

‘There have been many failings in England’s building safety regulations, exposed by the Grenfell tragedy two years ago, but we hope the government will act on their commitment post-Grenfell to ensure residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes,’ she added.