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Building regulations set standards for construction and refurbishment work in England. The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 prompted a review of the rules and processes governing building safety.

In response, the government passed the Building Safety Act 2022. It creates rigorous rules specifically for the construction, refurbishment and occupation of high-rise residential buildings.

Building regulations and safety are devolved matters. This briefing focuses on the situation in England with section 8 covering the devolved administrations.

What are building regulations in England?

All building work carried out in England must adhere to building regulations made under the Building Act 1984 and the Building Regulations 2010. These set minimum standards for the design, construction and performance of new buildings; building control bodies must approve new buildings to ensure they meet the standards. The standards apply to existing buildings only when they undergo certain changes, such as refurbishment.

Building regulations are performance based: they set outcomes that need to be met but do not set out how these outcomes must be achieved. For example, a building needs to meet energy efficiency requirements, but it does not need to be fitted with a specific type of insulation or heating system.

The government provides guidance of how to comply with building regulations in common building situations in Approved Documents.

How is building work approved?

Anyone carrying out work that is controlled under building regulations must obtain approval from a building control body, either local authority building control or a privately approved inspector.

The building control approval process happens in three stages:

  1. Before starting, the applicant or the privately approved inspector if one is used, will notify the local authority of the work.
  2. During construction, the local authority building control or privately approved inspector will carry out regulatory inspections.
  3. On completion, the local authority or privately approved inspector will issue a completion or final certificate if they are satisfied with the work.

How do local authorities enforce compliance?

A local authority has powers to ensure that buildings in its area comply with building regulations. It can force developers to fix non-compliant work and pursue prosecution against those who violate building regulations.

Those carrying out the building work are responsible for making sure they comply with building regulations. The local authority or privately approved inspector is not liable for any defects.

Review of building regulations and safety after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017

The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 in a residential tower block in London resulted in the deaths of 72 people. The rapid spread of the fire up the tower has been linked to the cladding material used in the external walls. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry found “compelling evidence” that the external walls did not comply with the Building Regulations 2010.

The fire prompted a review of building regulations and fire safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt. The review recommended a new regulatory regime for high-rise buildings (including blocks of flats) as well as reforms to the wider building safety regime that covers all buildings.

The government’s main legislative response to the Grenfell Tower fire was the Building Safety Act 2022. The Act made the changes recommended by the Hackitt review. It also created a new body, the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) within the Health and Safety Executive.

New regulations for high-rise buildings

The Building Safety Act 2022 created a new regulatory regime for ‘higher-risk’ buildings, that is buildings that are 18 or more metres in height or have seven or more storeys and contain at least two residential units.

It will apply to residential buildings (such as blocks of flats), care homes and hospitals during design and construction. During occupation, it will cover only residential buildings.

During design, construction and refurbishment

From October 2023, the BSR will oversee the building control approval process for all higher-risk buildings. These buildings will also have to pass through a more rigorous process consisting of three gateway points:

  • Gateway 1: Fire safety is considered as part of the planning permission process. Since August 2021, the local planning authority has been required to consult the Health and Safety Executive on planning applications for higher-risk residential buildings.
  • Gateway 2: From October 2023, building work on higher-risk buildings will only be able to start after the developer has approval from the BSR. The BSR will also carry out regular inspections during construction.
  • Gateway 3: From October 2023, higher-risk buildings will only be allowed to be occupied after the BSR has checked that the building work is compliant and has issued a building control certificate.

During occupation

For higher-risk residential buildings (but not hospitals and care homes), the government also created the role of the ‘accountable person’. The role will usually be fulfilled by the building owner or the person responsible for the building’s maintenance. They will be responsible for assessing and managing ‘building safety risks’ during occupation.

The accountable person will be required to register their building with the BSR. The BSR will ‘call in’ registered buildings at regular intervals to make sure the accountable person complies with their duties to regularly assess and continuously manage building safety risks.

Wider reforms to building safety regulations

The Building Safety Act 2022 also made reforms to better align private-sector and public-sector building control bodies. Both will be overseen by the BSR in future and will be required to adhere to common competency criteria.

Privately approved inspectors will be replaced by ‘building control approvers’ who will have to register with the BSR.  

Failure to comply with the BSR’s standards could result in enforcement action. For example, the BSR will be able to recommend that the Secretary of State should suspend a local authority’s building control function, and it will be able to revoke a building control approver’s registration.

Further enforcement powers

The Building Safety Act 2022 will also strengthen the enforcement powers of local authorities to deal with violations of the building regulations:

  • They will be able to issue new stop and/or compliance notices which require non-compliant work to stop temporarily and/or be fixed.
  • Time limits for existing enforcement powers will be extended or removed.

The BSR will have the same powers as local authorities. In future, residents who suffer damages (such as property damage or personal injury) because building regulations and processes were not followed will also have recourse to claim compensation.

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