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Greater Manchester High Rise and Building Safety Taskforce welcomes fire safety changes

19 May, 2022

Greater Manchester’s High Rise and Building Safety Taskforce will work to ensure that impending changes to fire safety laws, which affect blocks of flats, deliver safer homes for residents across the city-region.

On May 18, 2022, the Government implemented the Fire Safety Act 2021 and laid new regulations (Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022) under the Fire Safety Order, which will come into effect in January 2023 and will create new responsibilities for ensuring the safety in blocks of flats.

The Fire Safety Act amends the Fire Safety Order to make it clear that in blocks of flats the external walls and any attachments to it are covered by the Order.

This means that those responsible for blocks of flats must ensure that the fire risk assessment considers the external walls including balconies and flat entrance doors.

Where there is a risk to the safety of residents then action will need to be taken to remove or reduce the risk. This includes where existing external wall cladding would allow rapid external fire spread, or if there are doors which don’t meet appropriate standards to hold back fire and smoke.

The Government has produced guidance for those who own and manage blocks of flats to help them prioritise reviewing the fire risk assessments for their buildings.

The Government has also laid regulations under the Fire Safety Order which will impose new requirements on those who own and manage blocks of flats following the recommendations made by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in 2019. These regulations will mean that buildings are safer for residents and for firefighters attending incidents.

Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, who is Deputy Mayor for Greater Manchester, the city-region’s Lead for Housing and Homelessness, and Chair of Greater Manchester’s High Rise and Building Safety Taskforce, said: “I welcome the clarity which the Fire Safety Act brings, and the Regulations that will help to ensure the safety of people’s homes and buildings.

“In Greater Manchester we have been working for a number of years to ensure the safety of residents living in blocks of flats and repeatedly raised with the Government that fire does not discriminate by height.

“Through the Greater Manchester High Rise and Building Safety Taskforce we will work to ensure that the new requirements set out can be delivered effectively and consistently across both social and privately owned buildings – sharing ideas and good practice and delivering a Greater Manchester standard for fire safety.”

GMFRS’ Assistant Chief Fire Officer Leon Parkes, who is Deputy Chair of the High Rise and Building Safety Taskforce, said: “In Greater Manchester we have always taken the view that the Fire Safety Order applied to the external walls of buildings, so we welcome confirmation of this from the Government.

“We will now work with housing providers and managing agents to help them prepare for upcoming fire safety changes, and to understand what the changes mean for them. This will include us sharing information on our approach to the regulations and inviting partners to attend events with us to discuss and plan how we work together.

“The Regulations - which address the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations - will have significant benefits for GMFRS. Residential buildings will be safer, not only for people living within them, but also for our firefighters attending incidents across the city-region.

“These changes also give us the opportunity to share fire prevention messaging with residents who live in flats, and we will be working with our partners to distribute consistent messaging. This will help residents to stay safe and reduce the costs for housing providers and managing agents in producing information to residents.”

Sue Sutton, Chief Executive of Salix Homes and Chair of the Housing Providers Building Safety Group, said: “As we approach the five-year anniversary of the Grenfell tragedy, housing partners across Greater Manchester welcome the long-awaited fire safety legislation brought about by the Fire Safety Act, which marks the next important step towards raising the bar on building safety on a national level.

“The safety of our residents is our utmost priority, and we’ve been championing the calls for change within the sector. These fundamental reforms to the legislation, alongside the new Building Safety Act, will help ensure people’s safety is always put first, setting out clear requirements for building owners.

“Building safety is a continuous journey, and we’re committed to working closely with the fire service, the Government, safety experts, and of course our residents across Greater Manchester, to embed the new regulations, and pending legislation, to ensure all our buildings continue to be safe places to live, both now and in the future.”

Also forming the suite of new legislation following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, and the independent Hackitt Review, the Building Safety Bill received Royal Assent on April 28, 2022.

The Building Safety Act 2022 will give many leaseholders more protection once it comes into force, with protection backdated to February 14, 2022.

The new Act outlines that in the first instance, developers should foot the costs for historical remediation works in their buildings, and where building owners can pay for such costs, they will not legally be able to charge leaseholders for works carried out.

The Building Safety Fund was set up by the Government for building owners to fund all cladding remediation for buildings above 18 metres, with pledges made from several developers to cover costs of cladding remediation for buildings above 11 metres.

If building owners cannot pay for non-cladding defects, they can legally recoup some costs from leaseholders. In Greater Manchester and other areas outside of London this cost will be capped at £10,000 (within London the cap is £15,000).

Paul added: “It will be a relief to many of our residents that the Government amended the Building Safety Act to protect some leaseholders from the costs of making their homes safe. It has never been right that the consequences and costs of the regulatory crisis should fall to innocent residents. The protections introduced will go a long way to alleviating the anxiety that many hundreds of residents across Greater Manchester have lived with for a number of years. The Government must however, ensure that the protections are extended to all residents put at risk by developers who put profit over safety.

“We will continue to support residents who still face significant costs and I would urge the Government to extend the protections to ensure no residents are left behind.”

Visit GMFRS’ website to find out about Greater Manchester’s High Rise and Building Safety Taskforce. Details of upcoming online sessions, to update managing agents and housing providers on fire safety legislation, can also be found on the site.

To find out more about the Building Safety Act 2022 and what it means for leaseholders, visit the Government website.