In this article, we discuss the measures that have been taken in light of the Grenfell Tower Fire in June 2017. Following a public inquiry, steps have been made to ensure the tragic events can’t be repeated. However, progress has been slow and there is yet to be a bill passed by parliament.

Grenfell Tower

72 people died as a result of the fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017[1], the largest loss of life in a residential fire since WWII.

In the wake of Grenfell, the government commissioned the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, who published the findings of the inquiry in May 2018.

The report concluded that the tragedy highlighted serious issues stemming from ignorance, indifference, a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities, and inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement.[2]

Hackitt made 53 recommendations based on her findings that the systems in place ensuring fire and structural safety in high-rise residential buildings were not fit for purpose.[2]

What has happened since the Hackitt Review was published?

The government response has manifested itself in the form of two main draft bills, the Fire Safety Bill and the Building Regulations Bill. At the time of writing, neither bill has been passed.

Research that fed into the bills began when the government ran a consultation for six weeks in 2019, receiving over 900 responses from individuals, residents’ groups, and fire safety and built environment industry representatives.[3]

From this, the Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Bill were drafted and put forward for pre-legislative scrutiny in July 2020 and March 2020 respectively.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, progress on the bills has been slow, with the Building Safety Bill yet to reach the House of Commons. (New parliamentary schedule next week so hang tight on this paragraph)

The Fire Safety Bill has progressed further, with both Houses having scrutinised its contents. The key amendments centred around who was going to foot the bill for removing combustible cladding on existing properties.

In February 2021, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government Robert Jenrick announced a £5 billion investment in building safety. [4]

In his five-point plan, Jenrick assured leaseholders will never pay more than £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding, with the government covering the costs.[4]

What are the Fire Safety and Building Safety Bills trying to achieve?

One of the largest reforms under the Building Safety Bill will be the creation of a new regulator in the form of the Building Safety Regulator (BSR).

Andy Alexander, Head of Enforcement, Sanctions and Appeals Policy at the Building Safety Portfolio set out the key measures that will be introduced by the new regulator.

  • Duty-holders that will have clear accountability and statutory responsibilities as buildings are designed, constructed or refurbished.
  • Gateway points (stop/go decision points), which will provide rigorous inspection of regulatory requirements to help ensure building safety risks are considered at each stage of a building’s design and construction. 
  • Requiring a ‘golden thread’ of building information to be created, stored and updated throughout the building’s lifecycle. 
  • Requiring mandatory reporting to the new BSR of fire and structural safety occurrences which could cause a significant risk to life safety. 
  • The BSR will oversee building work as building control body for in scope buildings and ensure appropriate measures are being implemented to manage risk. [3]

Another key theme running through the new measures is a collaboration between residents, building owners, and regulatory authorities.

Part 4 of the bill places obligations on the ‘Accountable Person’ who will be identified by the building owner’s legal estate and assessed by the Regulator.

The Accountable Person must:

  • appoint a competent (Skills, Knowledge, Experience and Behaviours) Building Safety Manager for that building;
  • assess the building safety risks in and around the building and taking all necessary steps to control those risks; 
  • produce a safety case report;
  • operate a mandatory occurrence reporting system;
  • maintain information about the building – the golden thread;
  • Produce a resident engagement strategy and complaints system[3]

The final underpinning of the new regulatory system is strong enforcement powers. Ensuring the new measures are being met and deciding upon any necessary sanctions will be an appointed ‘Authorised Officer’ (AO) whose powers will also include:

  • Entry to premises where necessary for BSR purposes – e.g. buildings in scope, offices of those managing/building those buildings, etc
  • Requiring information for BSR purposes
  • Obstructing an AO will be an offence[3]

What have been the biggest challenges?

It’s been four years since the Grenfell Tower Fire, and yet there is still no bill passed. Due to the wider emotive context of the fire, the slow pace has angered many.

However, the sheer scale of the Hackitt Report and just how severe the failings of a wide range of institutions and bodies were, goes some way to explaining the delays.

Paired with the restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the hearing of the bills has been pushed back further. This further delay has given more time for stakeholder engagement, which should ultimately result in stronger legislation.

In recent months there has been further scrutiny of both Bills resulting in areas that are under greater consideration, such as:

  • The new building safety charge, and how to ensure it is proportionate and transparent
  • Coherence across the legislative landscape given the changes to the Fire Safety Order and wider legislation that applies to housing
  • How to identify an accountable person and what to do if there is more than one
  • Ensuring the regime works for complex and minority ownership structures and Accountable Person insolvency
  • Transitioning to the new regime[3]

When will the bills come into effect?

Both bills are due to pass through parliament in the next couple of months, but the reality is that the new measures and regulations are so far-reaching it won’t be until 2023 that the BSR beings functioning as the regulatory authority.[5]

Dame Judith Hackitt has advised those responsible for current high-rise residential buildings to get ahead of the game and begin ensuring their buildings are up to the new standards now, to avoid playing catch-up when the new regulations come in.[5]

1] GOV.UK. 2020. Building Safety Draft Bill Explained.  

[2] GOV.UK. 2018. Building a Safer Future: Final Report

[3] Reference our event

[4] GOV.UK. 2021. Government to bring an end to unsafe cladding with multi-billion pound intervention

[5] Building Design Online. 2020. Government is revising Building Safety Bill, says Hackitt

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72 people died as a result of the fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017. This article examines what is being done within building and fire regulations, in the wake of the disaster.

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