Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.
Yesterday?s Queen?s Speech included a pledge from the Government to ?bring forward laws to implement new building safety standards?. This follows on from Dame Judith Hackitt?s independent review commissioned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. The report makes 50 recommendations to the government - a complete shake-up of the way blocks higher than ten storeys are designed, constructed and managed, with safety at the heart of the proposals.
A huge raft of consultations is now underway, looking at ways to make Dame Judith?s recommendations workable on the ground. One proposal which will impact high-rise flat owners and their property managers day-to-day is the introduction of the new role of a ?clear and identifiable duty holder? for every individual block or development. This ?approved person? will have an overarching responsibility for managing building safety risks; for maintaining the fire and structural safety of the whole building; and for identifying and making improvements where possible.
The intention is for this role to work in the same way as the duty under health and safety legislation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees. Non-compliance could be a criminal offence, with severe penalties imposed. The dutyholder will also be required to nominate a building safety manager, who will act as a point of contact, taking on the task of resident engagement ? also key to Dame Judith?s proposals.
As we understand it, the role of dutyholder would be unpaid. It is not a professional position but one that could be taken on by a leaseholder, in the same way that residents sign up to be directors of their RMC. But who will want to take on such an onerous responsibility?
One suggestion from Andrew Bulmer, CEO of the Institute of Residential property Managers (IRPM) is the appointment of an external director to an RMC to take on the role. No external person would do the job for free and the charge for their services would presumably have to be met by the leaseholders via their service charge. This is unlikely to be popular!
This director would also need to be given the necessary authority to fully manage the building and discharge their responsibilities, says Andrew. Leaseholders would have to be able to rein in a rogue external director and, if necessary, sack them. And what about conflicts of interest between that director and the property manager? He or she would have to remain answerable to the leaseholders and not be able to simply remove a managing agent they didn?t like. Plenty of food for thought here.
With a whopping 122 consultation questions included in Dame Judith?s final report, it will take some time to develop a new, reasonable and practical safety regime for high rise blocks. We don?t have the answers to these questions yet but one thing is absolutely certain ? in the next two to three years the way property managers work with residents to keep their buildings safe is likely to change out of all recognition. Let's hope this brave new world is a positive one for agents as well as residents.
Author : Mary-Anne Bowring
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