Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government
I am pleased to launch of our White Paper which proposes a new Building Safety Regime for Wales. This signals a significant step forward in our plans to improve building safety following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower. The changes proposed under the new regime amount to the most extensive building safety reforms in the UK.
The scale of the challenge required us to be bold and we recognise that this is an opportunity to ensure that the changes we make result in real and impactful change for the benefit of residents across Wales.
There are a number of key aspects to our proposals to overhaul the existing system. Firstly, scope of the regime. Following Grenfell, we recognised that important steps needed to be taken to improve safety for residents in high rise buildings. But we also recognise that the risk of fire exists in all buildings. Indeed, some of the high risk buildings are low rise such as HMOs and converted properties. This is why our regime will encompass a wide range of buildings, from buildings converted into multiple flats to high rise residences. However, we also recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate for such a diverse range of buildings. This is why our proposed regime takes a pragmatic and proportionate approach to safety measures, which differ according to risk and building type.
We also propose a number of new dutyholder roles. One of the most problematic aspects of the current system is how difficult it can be to identify who is responsible for safety in a building. Our proposals introduce roles during the design and construction of buildings, and when they are occupied, to ensure that those in positions of authority are clear on their responsibilities and can be held accountable.
At the heart of our proposals for occupied buildings is a completely new system of identifying, assessing and mitigating the risks of fire. This is designed to address the risks that typically exist in blocks of flats, and will replace the current arrangements which were designed for workplaces. It will be easier for landlords to apply and for residents to understand.
Regulation of the new regime is a critical element. These changes are not just about process but represent a significant cultural shift in the way we design, build, manage and live in buildings across Wales. We will need robust systems in place to oversee this. The wide scope of our regime makes for a complex regulatory landscape and we must get this aspect right for the regime to be effective. This is an important area for further consultation and we want to engage extensively with stakeholders on this as we develop the right model for Wales. This is an opportunity for us to be bold and we should not shy away from significant change if this will deliver the best system to improve safety.
We are also engaging with the UK Government and industry on aspects of our reforms. A key area for the future will be setting uniform expectations for competence and skills. The draft UK Building Safety Bill proposes to extend some powers to Welsh Ministers in relation to design and construction which will allow us to establish a more robust regulatory process alongside our legislative reforms. There are clear opportunities and benefits of a consistent approach which will assist the construction industry and the wider housing sector to make significant adjustments in light of these reforms.
And last, and most importantly, our regime significantly enhances residents’ rights. I am mindful that it is all too easy to get lost in the complexity of this area. But we must not lose sight of why we are going to such great lengths to tackle this problem, this is ultimately for the benefit of residents. Residents are at the core of our new regime and the changes proposed are about empowering them to have more say in the matters that affect their homes. We also recognise that rights and responsibility go hand in hand and this why we also propose steps residents can take themselves in order to ensure their own safety and that of their neighbours.
We know there are significant challenges that still remain in the here and now and I am committed to addressing them. There is also the ongoing Grenfell inquiry. There is more for us to learn from this and we must carefully consider further recommendations when they are available. But we must also look forward and embrace optimism to create the system we need to realise our vision.
I want to thank our Building Safety Expert Group and all of our many other stakeholders who have helped us get to this point. We know there is much more work to do and I encourage as much engagement with our consultation as possible so that we can work together to achieve our ambitious, but imperative plans to improve building safety across Wales.