Robert Jenrick – 2020 Statement on Building Safety

Below is the text of the statement made by Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the House of Commons on 20 January 2020.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the major package of reforms to the building safety system that I am announcing today.

The Government are committed to bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation. We took action to address the fire safety risks identified following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and in the autumn we committed to adopting in full the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report. We will shortly publish our response to the phase 1 report, and a full debate is scheduled tomorrow for the House to discuss this important issue at length. The focus of this statement will be on the wider programme of building safety reforms and the work that I am leading to ensure that everyone is safe, and feels safe, in their own home.

The Government have already taken steps, including on aluminium composite material remediation, to tackle fire safety, but as that work continues, it becomes ever more evident that problems have developed over many decades, leading to serious incidents and the risk of further loss of life. This is completely unacceptable. It is clear that the problems will take many years to put right, but all of us—building owners, the construction industry, local authorities, the fire service and the Government—have an absolute duty to ensure that action continues to be taken as quickly as possible so that a tragedy such as the one at Grenfell Tower can never happen again.

There has been progress, but it has been unacceptably slow, so today I am setting out reforms that go further, and I intend to ensure that they do so faster. First, we will begin immediately to establish the new building safety regulator. This new regulator will be established within the Health and Safety Executive, which is an experienced regulator and is committed to introducing the new regulatory regime at pace. Ahead of legislation, the regulator will initially be in shadow form, and I am pleased to announce that Dame Judith Hackitt will chair a board to oversee the transition to this new regime. I expect the shadow regulator to be established within weeks, and we will be recruiting the first national chief inspector of buildings.

Secondly, our consultation on sprinklers and other measures for new build flats has now closed. I am carefully considering the responses and evidence received, but I can inform the House today that I am minded to lower the height threshold for sprinkler requirements in new buildings from 18 metres to 11 metres. Subject to further consideration, I will set out my detailed proposals in that respect in February.

Thirdly, we banned the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise buildings in December 2018. My Department concluded a review into the ban’s effectiveness, and today I am announcing a consultation on the ban, again going significantly further, including by lowering the 18 metre height threshold to at most 11 metres.

Fourthly, my Department, with support from the independent expert advisory panel, has provided advice for building owners on the steps they should be taking ​to address a range of safety risks. We have listened to feedback, and I am today publishing updated advice that will provide the further clarity they have sought. This advice brings together 22 separate advice notes into one consolidated document.

There is evidence that there has not been enough focus among building owners on buildings below 18 metres. The expert panel has decided to clarify that more action is needed to review the risks in buildings below 18 metres, and owners of those buildings should review the advice and take action where needed. I want to be clear with the House that it has never been the case that, simply because a building is below 18 metres, owners are exempt from ensuring the safety of their residents. The requirement on building owners is to make sure buildings of any height are safe, and I expect all owners to be acting responsibly.

The panel’s new advice makes clear that ACM cladding with an unmodified polyethylene core should not be used on buildings of any height. This reflects the evidence from the materials research programme, which to date has confirmed that ACM presents a much higher risk than any other materials tested when used on the external walls of buildings.

The consolidated advice note also clarifies the actions building owners should now take in relation to fire doors. I welcome the commitment from members of the Association of Composite Door Manufacturers to work with building owners to remediate their doors that have failed tests, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Fifthly, I am today publishing a call for evidence seeking views on the assessment and prioritisation of risks associated with external wall systems, such as cladding, within existing buildings. For many years, we have relied on crude height limits with binary consequences, and it is clear to me that this approach to assessing risk does not reflect the complexity of the challenge at hand. I have concluded that we need a better, more sophisticated system to underpin our approach. Height will remain a significant and material factor, but it will sit alongside a broader range of risk factors. I am therefore today commissioning leading experts in the field to develop, as quickly as possible, a sophisticated matrix of risk that will replace the historic system and underpin our approach to future regulatory regimes.

Sixthly, while I welcome recent progress, remediation of unsafe ACM cladding, especially in the private sector, is still far too slow. This absolutely cannot continue, particularly when funding is now being provided by the taxpayer. Although all unsafe ACM cladding now has mitigation safety measures in place where required, I do not underestimate the concern of residents living in buildings where remediation has not even started.

The latest data show that, out of 92 buildings in scope, 82 applications have been made to the private sector ACM cladding remediation fund, and that the 10 for which applications have not been made have exceptional circumstances, which I have reviewed. However, an application to the fund is not an end in itself; that can never be sufficient. Construction work to remediate these buildings should be proceeding as quickly as possible. We will therefore be appointing an independent construction expert to review remediation timescales and identify what can be done to increase the pace in the private sector.​

Inaction must have consequences. From next month, I will name those responsible for buildings where remediation has not started and remove them from the public list only when it has. My Department will be working with the relevant local authorities to drive enforcement where necessary. The Home Secretary will deliver the fire safety Bill and associated regulatory changes in order to enable delivery of the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 report. The proposed Bill will place beyond doubt that external wall systems, including cladding and the fire doors to individual flats in multi-occupied residential blocks, fall within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. These changes will affirm the ability to enforce locally against building owners who have not remediated unsafe ACM buildings. Building owners and developers who have not already taken action must do so now. Further delay is not acceptable.

Finally, I am aware of the concerns of leaseholders about meeting the cost of remediation. As I do not want cost to be a barrier to remediation, I am considering, with Her Majesty’s Treasury, options to support leaseholders. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I will set out further details in due course.

The safety of people in their homes is paramount. Through the reforms that I have outlined today, I want to make it clear that this Government will not falter in doing whatever it takes to ensure that all buildings and all residents are made safe. I commend this statement to the House.