building safety

Property industry welcomes 'the biggest change in building safety for a generation'

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has announced new measures to further reform the building safety system.

The steps announced include mandatory sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage in all new high-rise blocks of flats over 11 metres tall.

The government consulted on its proposals for a new building and fire safety system based on Dame Judith Hackitt’s review following the Grenfell Tower fire, and will legislate for the new reforms through the Building Safety Bill.

David Hancock has been appointed to review the progress of removing unsafe ACM claddings from buildings.

The government announced that it was also creating a new, national Building Safety Regulator, which is already being established in shadow form by the Health and Safety Executive.

In addition, the housing industry will design a website for lenders and leaseholders to access the information needed to proceed with sales and re-mortgaging.

The housing secretary will hold a roundtable with lenders to work on an agreed approach to mortgage valuations for properties in buildings under 18 metres tall.

“The government is bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation,” said Jenrick.

“This new regime will put residents’ safety at its heart, and follows the announcement of the unprecedented £1bn fund for removing unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings in the budget.”

Mark Hayward, chief executive at NAEA Propertymark, commented: “Public safety is paramount, and we’re pleased the government is introducing changes to ensure residents are kept safe.”

Andrew Gardiner, co-founder and director of Saxon Trust, said having a sprinkler system in place for high-rise apartment buildings offered a greater level of safety which all lenders and developers were likely to be supportive of.

“Currently, we’d estimate this to add on around £3,000 a unit [for] developers (more for smaller developers) and we’d query whether this cost will be met by any government support, or if developers would seek to pass the cost onto the buyers,” he added.

Neil Knight, business development director at Spicerhaart Part-Exchange & Assisted Move, said that developers would also appreciate the greater clarity around standards and where responsibility lies for ensuring that they were met.

Paul Watson, head of origination at Blend Network, added that such changes would ultimately help the housing market “get back on its feet” once the period of uncertainty had passed.

“We particularly welcome the transparency provided by a data sharing website that will enable lenders and leaseholders to access information in a timely manner.”

Mary-Anne Bowring, managing director at Ringley, believed that the announcement showed the government was “slowly but surely moving in the right direction”.

"The commitment to work with mortgage lenders is particularly welcome as, while the housing market is in deep freeze now, with mortgage lenders pulling up the drawbridge and the prime minister urging people not to move unless absolutely necessary, this was a reality for many leaseholders before the coronavirus crisis, thanks to a lack of proper documentation about their cladding.”

Mary-Anne added that the government needed to be prepared to do more and have the same attitude to tackling fire safety as they had for dealing with the impact of the coronavirus.

However, Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman, said a firm timetable for dealing with responses and implementation was imperative.

“Hopefully, when we emerge on the other side of the pandemic there will be a lot of demand for new housing and we want to ensure that the appropriate procedures are in place sooner rather than later. 

He added that of more immediate concern would be the plight of existing leaseholders living in high-rise buildings “caught between a rock and [a] hard place”.

“[They are] unable to remortgage, raise finance from their lender and [seeing] spiralling service charges to cover additional safety procedures, with little or no prospect of selling.”

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