Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau
Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee25/02/2021
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Dawn Bowden MS|
|Delyth Jewell MS|
|John Griffiths MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Laura Anne Jones MS|
|Mandy Jones MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Andrew Thomas||Uwch-swyddog Rheoli Adeiladau, y Gweithgor Diogelwch Tân, Sefydliad Brenhinol y Syrfewyr Siartredig|
|Senior Building Control officer, Fire Safety working Group|
|Bob Mason||Pennaeth Diogelwch Tân Busnes, Gwasanaeth Tân ac Achub Gogledd Cymru|
|Head of Business Fire Safety, North Wales Fire and Rescue Service|
|Jason Clarke||Pennaeth Rheolaeth Risg, Warwick Estates|
|Head of Risk Management, Warwick Estates|
|Mark Snelling||Pennaeth, Cynghorydd Diogelwch a Thân, ARMA|
|Health, Safety and Fire Advisor, ARMA|
|Nigel Glen||Prif Weithredwr, y Gymdeithas Asiantaethau Rheoli Preswyl (ARMA)|
|Chief Exectuive Officer, ARMA|
|Owen Jayne||Rheolwr Grŵp, Pennaeth Diogelwch Tân Busnes, Gwasanaeth Tân ac Achub De Cymru|
|Group Manager, Head of Business Fire Safety, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service|
|Paul Edwards||Uwch Gyfarwyddwr Rhanbarthol, Cyngor Cenedlaethol Adeiladu Tai (NHBC)|
|Senior Regional Director, NHBC|
|Peter Richards||Cadeirydd, Rheolaeth Adeiladu Awdurdodau Lleol (LABC) Cymru|
|Chair, Local Authority Building Control Cymru|
|Siôn Slaymaker||Rheolwr Grŵp, Pennaeth Diogelwch Tân Busnes, Gwasanaeth Tân ac Achub Canolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru|
|Group Manager, Head of Business Fire Safety, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Catherine Hunt||Ail Glerc|
|Chloe Davies||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Stephen Davies||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:29.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 13:29.
[Inaudible.]—Communities Committee. Item 1 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included in the agenda for this meeting, published on Monday of this week. This meeting is however being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available.
Just to remind all participants that the microphones will be controlled centrally, so there's no need to turn them on or off individually. And when a participant is called to speak, the microphone will be turned on centrally. Are there any declarations of interest? No. We've one apology—. Sorry, Mandy.
Yes. The only declaration I can put is that I actually have the flat in Cardiff, which we're having problems with, with the rendering and covering. So, I thought I'd better mention that.
Okay. Thank you very much, Mandy.
We've had one apology today from Huw Irranca-Davies, with no substitution, and Delyth Jewell MS will be leaving the meeting after agenda item 2. If, for any reason, I drop out of this meeting, the committee has agreed that Dawn Bowden MS will temporarily chair while I seek to rejoin.
Okay, then, item 2 on our agenda today is our inquiry into fire safety in high-rise blocks in Wales, including the Welsh Government's recent White Paper, 'Safer buildings in Wales: a consultation'.
Our first evidence session today, then, is with the fire and rescue services. And let me welcome Owen Jayne, group manager, head of business fire safety for South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Siôn Slaymaker, group manager, head of business fire safety, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service and Bob Mason, head of business fire safety, North Wales Fire and Rescue Service. Welcome to you all and thank you for coming along to give evidence to committee today. If it's okay with you, we'll move straight into questions, and I'll begin. First of all, then, in terms of the scope of the new building safety regime, to what extent do you agree that the scope of that new building safety regime is appropriate? Who would like to begin? Siôn.
Diolch. I think, yes, generally. This time last year, we responded to the building safety position statement, which was one of the precursors to the consultation document that came out, and as part of that building safety position statement, we suggested that the height threshold of 11m should be considered, as opposed to the 18m that was widely regarded at that time. So, it's very welcome to see that this proposal has gone, indeed, a step further than that, and now encompasses all buildings, regardless of height, albeit with the categorisation.
I'll say from the outset that I think that the proposals in front of us will probably form the basis for the most comprehensive building safety regime in the UK. I think that the fact now that we've brought in—or the proposals are considering bringing in—categorisation based on height and storey numbers, will avoid what we often see with gaming the system with the height based purely on metres or feet.
Okay. Well, thank you very much for that, Siôn. Obviously, if either Owen or Bob have anything to add or even to disagree, then please feel free to do so, but if not, we'll take it that you're content with that. Owen.
I totally agree with my colleague there. The one thing I would like to see clarification on is this opportunity to game from developers, because what we've seen in the past is developers will build a construction to 17.9m, and in the proposals, although it says 18m and above six floors, there's still that opportunity for gaming where they'll build it to 17.9m, six floors, and then they'll go into category 2 according to the description in the proposal. So, I would like to see the wording 'six floors and above', rather than '18m and above six floors', because above six floors would then be seven floors, and that allows a bit of gaming between category 1 and category 2.
Thanks very much for that, that's very useful.
Just building on the appropriateness of the new regime, then, and the two categories of buildings, I take it from what you said, Siôn, that you think that's appropriate and that the more onerous standards that will apply to buildings of 18m or taller are also appropriate. Is that your view?
That would certainly be the case. I think that bringing in the additional duties across the full range of buildings will make sure that those premises that are fewer than six storeys in height or your houses in multiple occupation will have additional responsibilities that will ultimately make those residents safer. So, specifically, the need to have written fire risk assessments and to make sure that those residents are engaged with.
Okay. Anything to add, Owen or Bob, to that or are you content? Yes, Owen.
Again, agreeing with my colleague. There are a number of buildings that don't come into scope at the moment within the building safety regime, and those are like hospitals, care homes and premises that fall under the specialised housing guide. I think, in south Wales, we'd like to see those brought into scope.
I see. I know that there's been a suggestion that single flats above commercial premises might be included. Is that something that you would support or that you've given some thought to?
Yes. That forms quite a bit of our work, to be honest, single flats above commercial shops, so it would be interesting to see those brought into scope as well, yes.
Okay. Bob, did you want to—
Only to add to what Owen has said there. Obviously, there are two regimes that would be in place then, but I'm sure that we can come up with a solution that would address that. As Owen has said, the commercial premises and the flats above them are a high-risk area for us, and one that we would really like to see this legislation address.
Okay. Siôn, did you want to come in here as well?
It was just to support the point of view put across by Owen and Bob there in terms of flats above commercial premises. They are a key focus or a key business area for us, unfortunately, in terms of our emergency response. And bearing in mind that this proposal has gone so much further into bringing buildings into scope, it would be good if we could go that final step and bring flats above commercial premises into scope as well.
Yes, okay. Thanks very much. We'll move on then to Laura Jones. Laura.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you, gentlemen. What impact might the scope of the proposals have on the resources of the fire and rescue services?
I'll start then. It's going to have a significant impact on our resources. It's bringing a lot of buildings into scope that we don't currently—they don't sit on our risk-based inspection programme. The fact that the gateway process that the Welsh Government have proposed—we're now involved in gateway 1 to 3—currently, we only sit in gateway 2 with building regs applications. So, it's going to increase our involvement right throughout the process, and quite rightly, we agree with it, but it's going to add to our resources.
Also, we could get drawn into an appeals process if we feel that the safety case or the planning doesn't actually meet our requirements, there's a possibility of us getting drawn into appeals processes, as we deem them not suitable.
And I think it's the unintended consequence, I suppose—that the auditing regime will change, where we'll have to take into account now balconies, the façades of buildings, external cladding. That doesn't currently sit within our audit regime, so audits will inevitably take longer and be more complex, and the algorithms that sit behind all our processes will have to be amended. So, that's just a number of things. I'm sure my colleagues will have more to add.
I think Owen's covered the majority of the points there that I had down. I think, in terms of the increase in resource utilisation, as well as our protection activities with business fire safety, some of the proposals in the document will undoubtedly unwelcomely affect our prevention activities, our traditional community safety activities, where residents and accountable persons will engage for general and fire safety advice. So that’s another consequence.
I think in terms of talking about resources, I suppose policy without resources is often quite difficult to implement, and I notice that, in the economic impact assessment, there’s a discussion there within the document about the additional resource requirements, and that relates to one or two full-time equivalent fire officers as part of that resource. I think for the regulatory element, which, no doubt, we’ll discuss a little later, that may be sufficient—yet to be determined—but I think there is whole host of resource implications within the proposal that wouldn’t be captured as part of that.
Thank you. Bob.
Yes, just further to add that I think that we need to take into account the desire from other bodies to have the fire safety knowledge that we have and the impact that that might have on our resources. We may find that staff are enticed away from us because of the requirements of the White Paper to improve fire safety knowledge in other areas. So that, again, could have a long-term impact on us.
Thank you. That’s quite an impact then.
What more should be done to address existing buildings with insufficient fire safety measures?
I’ll start on this one. Clearly, the White Paper does really cover off most of the areas that we would expect to see, and I think the only thing that we would possibly want to see is some more work in terms of joining up the residential premises with the existing regulatory reform Order. The White Paper identifies that there are challenges there between the two strands, and we’d like to see some commonality. There’s a lot of good practice within the White Paper that might be useful to carry over into the RRO.
Okay. Does anyone else want to comment on that, or is that—? Okay. Owen.
Yes, sorry, just to welcome the witness statement from Welsh Government about the funding for remediation work. We’re currently dealing with a number of buildings in south Wales that are going through this sort of remedial work, and it would be interesting to show there’s a clear mechanism for accessing those funds that they’ve made available, and urgently, I suppose, because a lot of them are going through it now. Yes, so, just a bit I wanted to add, really.
Siôn. I never know if I’m going to say it or you, John—sorry. [Laughter.]
For me, I think it’s recognition that we do everything that we can for existing buildings within the scope of the legislation that we’ve got, and that’s the concurrent regulation that we’ve got between ourselves and local authorities through the housing Act. I think there are some areas of crossover that could probably be strengthened, but I think as part of the consultation proposals, I think the joint inspection team will give that added oversight for buildings with existing fire safety deficiencies. And certainly, the amendments to the Fire Safety Bill to bring your front doors, balconies and so on into scope, that will certainly assist us with making those buildings safer.
Okay, thank you. How will the proposals in the White Paper ensure that the fire and rescue service has the information it needs about individual buildings to respond to a major fire? And what impact can inadequate information about a building have in the case of a serious incident?
Yes, I suppose with the information that’s proposed, the golden thread, so that you’ve got information right from the construction phase to occupation, providing that that information is made available and it’s kept current—. And how we do that and how we share that is going to be interesting on the various platforms and formats we’ve got across the local authorities and fire service. But it’s key to us that we’ve got current information on how that building is going to react and confidence that the measures that should be in place are in place. And I suppose, if we’ve got the most up-to-date planning information, that could be put on a platform so that our initial crews have it. So it’s key to us, but how we maintain the currency of that information is going to be difficult. It's going to inform our site-specific risk information, it's going to inform our initial action plans for dealing with a fire at the property. So, it's key to us, but it's how we have that information shared and on what platform, really.
Okay. Thank you. Anyone else?
I suppose the basis of responding to any incident is that you make your tactical plan based on the information that's available at that time to aid decision making. So, with that question, where the information is lacking or where we didn't have it, it would simply provide less intelligence to make those tactical decisions at an incident. Having that extra range of information through the key data set and so on will undoubtedly aid our response to any major incident.
Yes, sure. Thank you.
Can I also add that I think we need to be mindful of the numbers of buildings that we're talking about here? Certainly with category 1 buildings, I think the information that we're discussing here would be very, very useful and needs to be available. We may find it's very difficult to produce and to get the same level of information or a level of information that's suitable for firefighters with the wide range, or the large number, of category 2 buildings that are out there, and if we try and enforce that, it will again increase our work. It comes back to the resourcing issue that you asked about previously. It can be done, but it will need support from all of the regulatory bodies to achieve that goal.
Thank you. That's interesting. Thanks, Bob.
Thank you, Laura. Delyth Jewell.
Diolch. Can I ask you first, please, what involvement does the fire and rescue service have at the moment in the design and construction phase of high-rise residential buildings, and do you think the proposals in the White Paper, like the gateway stop points, go far enough—whoever wants to go first?
Currently, we are a consultee on the building control levels. That's equivalent to the gateway 2 as proposed. And we will often, unfortunately, only get consulted after the buildings are starting to come out of the ground, and this can cause us problems at gateway 1. There have been some changes to legislation proposed that will make us statutory consultees to planning applications, but, at the moment, we only get that notification should a planning agency think that there is a fire service requirement to do so. So, that's just on the cusp of changing slightly. But, at gateway 1, there's no proposal within the White Paper to add a detailed fire strategy, and I know that colleagues in England are looking at this, and coming up with a slightly more detailed submission than is proposed within the White Paper, where we're still talking largely about water supplies and access, which are things that we deal with currently through the planning process. So, there may be an opportunity there for us to start to engage with the designers at that point, and then stay engaged all the way through, which I think is certainly my experience; when a process works well is when the designers do engage you early on, and you stay engaged all the way through, and you understand what the problems are and you can work with them to come up with suitable solutions.
So, that's the situation of the moment. We have a little bit of input at gateway 1 and that will become slightly more going forward, and, at gateway 2, we are consultees but not statutory consultees, and that can sometimes cause problems with the information that we get and the timelines that we're working to.
Thanks, Bob. Does anyone want to add anything to that? You're both happy? So, turning to the occupation phase and specifically the proposals for buildings to have an accountable person, do you think that that meets the needs of your service, and do you think that will help with engagement and enforcement, or are there any concerns that you have? Owen.
I think the accountable person is going to make it easier. Historically with the buildings we've been dealing with, over the last number of years, it's been very difficult to pin down the responsible person under the Order. When you look at the complexities of lease, headleases, landowners, property developers, if the accountable person is registered and they have appropriate qualifications, it's going to make it easier for any enforcement activity or any discussions on whether we are going to assist the buildings in whatever capacity. If that accountable person is identified and registered, ultimately, it's going to make our job easier. We can spend an inordinate amount of time and legal involvement in trying to pin down responsible persons.
Thank you. We may have lost Bob. I can't see Bob's screen anymore. Siôn, do you want to add anything?
Really, just to reiterate what Owen said. The first piece of work that we've always got whenever we have to do any work with residential buildings or, indeed, any type of building, is to identify the responsible person. So, having a register, having a go-to and knowing who that person is will certainly help in terms of identifying that person at an early stage.
Thanks, Siôn. Bob, I don't know if you lost some of that then, but were there any other comments you wanted to add in terms of whether having the accountable person is going to be helpful with engagement and enforcement?
I think my colleagues covered it. The ability to identify a single individual that has responsibilities is crucial to any enforcement and improvements that we would want to make. I think there may be a little bit of finessing around how we identify that accountable person, but I think the principle is absolutely sound and one that we'd all endorse.
Okay, thank you. Finally from me, the White Paper also makes some proposals about maintaining compartmentation during occupation, and it puts duties on the accountable person and residents. Is there anything else that you'd like to add, apart from what you've already said, about why you think the proposals would be necessary and if they're sufficient? If you feel this has already been covered, then don't worry. Siôn.
Compartmentation, I would argue, is one of the single most important features of fire safety design in a building. If you get the compartmentation right, if it minimises fire spread outside that compartment, it really does minimise the impact of a fire. As such, it's very welcome that it receives its due regard within the proposal. And it is sufficient, without doubt, and it's particularly prescriptive and that's in a very positive sense. I think that some areas may be difficult to regulate. Looking at the detail of it, it talks about the residents' responsibility to make sure, for example, that they don't breach compartmentation. I think, in specific instances like that, it may be difficult for somebody to know without the technical knowledge when they may have affected the compartmentation. For example, somebody putting a hole in a wall for a tv cable may inadvertently breach compartmentation without them having the specialist knowledge to recognise that they've done that. So, I think that the onus would need to be back on the accountable person to do those periodic compartmentation checks to make sure that they were compliant overall.
Okay. Would anyone else like to add anything to that, or are you happy? No. Bob, did you?
Just on that, I think the compartmentation Siôn touched on a little bit there would be dealt with through the fire risk assessment model, and, again, it comes back to what we were talking about in terms of supporting and resourcing the White Paper. One of the issues is very much about reducing fires and the causes of fires, and we know that, in most of these buildings, they're started by people. One way that the accountable person is going to be able to perfect that through their [Inaudible.] identify it within their risk assessment, and then I'm sure will come to the fire service for advice and help to support people to reduce the likelihood of them having fires. Again, as Siôn talked about earlier, this will have a big impact on our community safety departments and the work that they do. So, again, there's a resourcing issue. We wholeheartedly support the risk assessment process, particularly the issues around compartmentation, but that then leads on into other areas, particularly around resourcing for us.
Okay, thank you all very much. Diolch.
Okay. Diolch, Delyth. And next we have Dawn Bowden.
Thanks, John. Just following on from that, from Bob's point there about risk assessments, I'm just wondering who you think should actually undertake risk assessments. You talked about the accountable person, but should this be somebody who's independent of the owner, the manager, the residents? Who do you think should do it?
It doesn't matter who does it, I don't think, if it's the management or an accountable person, provided they've got the necessary skills and qualifications. I think that's the point here. Only a suitably qualified person should do it. We've had a case in south Wales where we took a risk assessor to court and were successful because he didn't have the necessary skills and put the buildings he was employed to risk assess at great risk. It was the risk assessor we took to court on that occasion. So, I believe, provided they've got the necessary qualifications and skills, whether it's the management company or the accountable person, I don't think it's a problem, really. It's the skills, qualification and knowledge behind the person that is the important factor, I think.
Okay. What would be the level of skills, qualification and experience that would be needed?
Currently, anybody can do risk assessments and deem themselves competent, which we disagree with, obviously. I think there should be a governing body. There is one, as in the Institution of Fire Engineers—they've got a fire risk assessment register. There are not very many people on it at the moment, because it's voluntary basis. So, I think that a registration or a governing body, along the lines of the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting for electricians or the Gas Safe Register, maybe would be—
They should be regulated, then, basically.
Definitely a register and regulated, yes.
Okay. Bob or Siôn, anything to add to that?
I can touch a little bit on competency, and it's across the whole of the industry, really. The White Paper touched on competency in certain areas, but it doesn't deal with it in any depth or any detail, and competency was one of the keystones of the Hackitt report and of your own building safety expert road map. So, I'm a little bit surprised that there wasn't a little bit more about competency within the document and how they would expect that to fall in. Obviously, you've identified it as an issue around the fire risk assessment. I think, just looking at that as a particular area, we have again this wide range of buildings, and we would love to see every risk assessment done by a competent person and somebody who was registered. Whether the industry can support that across the whole range, all the way down to some of the smaller category 2 buildings, there's a capacity issue, potentially, there, and again it comes back to the point I made earlier about possibly people coming and taking staff away from us because there's more money to be made providing risk assessments and so on and so forth. So, I guess these things are all tied in together, but, yes, very much in support of what Owen says in terms of there being some regulation and competency award so that we know that the people doing these risk assessments are qualified to do them.
That's fine. Keeping on the theme of regulation and registration, if you like, licensing in registration, do you think all residential managing agents should be subject to mandatory regulation, and, if so, what kind of minimum standard should they have to meet?
I'll come back on that, then. I guess the point here is that we want everybody who's working across the sector to be competent, and that, again, was a driving point from Dame Hackitt's report—that competency should be across everybody who's involved with these buildings. On the question about managing agents, I think we would agree, yes, there should be a level of competency there. I must admit, when I was made aware of managing agents as a particular area, I wasn't overly familiar with how Hackitt dealt with them. It appears there has been some work done in England about regulation of what they're calling 'property agents', but the management agents fall within that, and there was a paper produced in July 2019 by Lord Best and that suggests that property agents that are managing property should have a level 4 qualification, but it doesn't say in what. We would clearly like it to be within fire safety or estates management with a fire safety element to that. So, yes, the simple answer to your question is, 'Yes, they should be regulated', but what that regulation actually looks like the industry isn't very clear on. It's an area that Dame Hackitt didn't specify, particularly. I think it's something that we've picked up on in Wales as a potential problem.
Sure, okay. Owen, you were going to say something.
Yes, I think the governance and integrity of managing agents should be registered and there should be some formal process. Residents need to have the confidence in the people that they're employing to manage their buildings—that they're doing it well. I'd maybe liken it to food standards, where you've got a rating system. So, the third party, then—the involvement of a managing agency—can be managed by the residents so they know they're getting a competent person. I don't know if it's possible—whether the food-standards part would fit—but I'd liken it to that.
Yes, just for some confidence in the system, basically.
Siôn, anything to add to that?
No, not a lot more to add to that. I think Owen's touched on the Food Standards Agency there. I think in terms of registration and licensing, certainly something along the lines of the Rent Smart Wales scheme would be a useful model for utilisation with building safety managers.
Sure. Okay, that's great, thanks very much—thank you, John.
Okay, thank you, Dawn. Mandy Jones.
I just want to touch a bit more on that regulation—what we've just been through. How would the new system be regulated and should there be a single regulator or multiple regulators? Should they operate locally, regionally or Wales-wide, or would you get some consistency with England joined in as well?
I think that in terms of regulation we have to look at the landscape in Wales and consider it against the model that England have put in with the single regulator headed up by the Health and Safety Executive. I think the amount of housing stock that we've got, and the number of buildings that come into scope, is far less, so the English model probably isn't appropriate for us in Wales.
I think that the multiple-regulator concurrent regulatory approach, by firming up existing legislation between local authorities and fire and rescue services, would be one that would work well in Wales and would build on the work that has already been ongoing in that area.
In terms of where they should operate—you know, locally, regionally or Wales-wide—I think that we already, as fire and rescue services, operate within our regions: north, south and mid and west Wales. We engage very effectively with the 22 local authorities that we work with. So, I think a sort of blend of that would be the approach that we would still need to take—that it's within fire service boundary areas but operating with different local authorities—because the focus and the priorities for different local authority areas will be very different, depending on whether they have category 1 buildings in their area or not. There'll be very few local authority areas that have a large density of category 1 buildings, whereas probably everybody will be interested in the smaller or lower buildings and the houses in multiple occupation.
Anybody else? No, right—. Carry on, Owen.
I was just going to say that I think that a single regulator would appear to be most effective, but I think the multiple-regulator concurrent system, with, maybe, setting out more collaboration and better collaboration—a more formal approach to that—I think is the preferred option for us.
If you go to a single regulator, the skills are not going to be in that single regulator. They're going to be pulling on the existing skills of the existing regulators, so it's still going to have an impact across local authority building control and the fire and rescue service. So, I think the concurrent system works, but maybe tighten up on the collaboration aspect.
Okay, fantastic. I'd like to touch on residents. The White Paper proposes that residents who would need extra help to evacuate a building can provide their details to the fire and rescue service via the accountable person. Is this a satisfactory solution? What more could be done to help both the residents who need additional help and firefighters?
Anybody? No, okay. I think the evacuation strategy is down to the type of building, obviously. If the fire service have to get involved in rescuing, then, obviously, the systems that should be in place—the compartmentation, the alarm system, the engineered solutions—have obviously failed to a point that we now have got to go in and carry out an evacuation. I know there's some, within the social care sector, you have PEPs—personal evacuation plans. I don't know if that's going to work in a residential setting because, obviously, even though you may have somebody on a certain floor that needs more assistance to evacuate or to escape, the information we have at that time—that person may be out, they may be on holiday. So, we could be committing people to that premises not knowing the up-to-date information. So, I think it's going to be difficult to look at rescue situations from our point of view. I think the evacuation—the buildings need to be built to the standard that they've stated on paper through planning to occupation phase. I think that's the crux of the matter here. They have to be built to standard.
Can I just pick up on that? Okay, so the flats where I've got a flat in Cardiff for work—your normal every-day concrete building, originally built god knows when. But concrete doesn't burn, full stop. Do you think the retrospective putting on there of cladding, with the air gap and everything, has exasperated this problem? One, it's to keep the flats warmer, but with that air gap, which acts as a chimney on the outside, surely Government must be responsible for retrospectively doing things like that to buildings. What are your thoughts on that?
I don't hold the Government responsible. I suppose building owners have to—. The building owners and construction. When Grenfell happened, the aluminium composite material was tested to a certain standard, and the tests were found wanting. So, I should imagine, when those buildings were built and the cladding was put on, maybe the information at that time wasn't as much as it is now. Grenfell has focused a lot of information on testing, the building standards, and the materials used. It's had an impact right across the built environment, really. So, it would be hard to comment on what was something that was put on a building 10, 15 or 20 years ago.
Certainly, the amendment to the fire safety order, which will bring the external envelope into scope—that will provide an avenue for accountable persons to have to demonstrate that the building is compliant and that it has the correct covering, and will provide an avenue then for the risk assessments to undertake destructive testing, if needs be, to look into that cladding and see exactly what material it's made of, how it's affixed to the building and so on.
Okay. Thank you, guys.
Okay. Thank you, Mandy.
Right, thank you very much, Siôn, Bob and Owen. That brings us to the end of our questions for this particular session. You will be sent a transcript of this session to check for factual accuracy in the normal way. But thank you very much for giving evidence to committee today. Diolch.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 8 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from item 8 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Okay. This session has finished a little bit before we anticipated it would, so, if committee is content, I suggest that we deal with item 8 on our agenda today at this stage, which is discussion of the committee's legacy report, and that we do so in private under Standing Order 17.42, and resolve to exclude the public from the meeting for the committee's consideration of item 8. We would then go back into public session at 2:45 p.m. today for the next item. Is committee content to do so? Yes. Okay, we'll then move into private session to consider item 8.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:09.
The public part of the meeting ended at 14:09.
Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 14:45.
The committee reconvened in public at 14:45.
Item 3 on our agenda today, then, is our second evidence session in our inquiry into fire safety in high-rise blocks in Wales, and the Welsh Government's White Paper, 'Safer Buildings in Wales: A Consultation'. And I'm very pleased to welcome Paul Edwards, senior regional director of the National House Building Council, Peter Richards, chair of the Local Authority Building Control Cymru, and Andrew Thomas, senior building control officer, fire safety working group at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. So, welcome to you all and thank you for coming along to give evidence to the committee today.
Perhaps I might begin, then, with one or two initial questions before other members of the committee come in with their own questions. And, firstly, generally: what impact do you think the new building safety regime will have on building control bodies in Wales, particularly in terms of skills and staffing resources? Who would like to begin? Peter.
I think it's fair to say there'll be different degrees of impact across Wales and across our authorities, pretty much dictated by the locality of, obviously, the category 1 buildings that are in scope, probably more in our urban city authorities. So, in terms of impact, obviously we need to ensure that we have the resources, the necessary resources, and the competencies in those areas. And, with the new regime and with the introduction of the gateways and the potential for the stop notices and suchlike, undoubtedly that's going to generate additional workload. So, we will require those additional resources. I don't think we're talking about large numbers of category 1 buildings, but the regime itself will mean more check-in, more repeat checking of details, more consultation, liaison with the fire officer in particular. I'm also envisaging some impact from planning colleagues knocking on my door for some advice in terms of interpreting proposals to support their consultation, which will be required, with the fire officer. So, in view of that, we obviously need to invest in training, upskilling staff, we'll need to invest in that competency development, which, to be fair, is something LABC, as you're probably aware, Chair, has been doing since the Grenfell tragedy.
There's no doubt we'll need to focus on succession planning of our staff, because we've suffered over years of austerity. Staff have retired, they haven't been replaced, we've lost a lot of staff to our competitors. So, that, I think, in the main for us, will be the focus: our staff, investing in our staff, the upskilling, the training, the competency. Probably, for me, that would be the biggest impact initially.
Yes, okay. Well, thank you for that, Peter. Do either Andy or Paul—? Paul.
Yes, and thanks for Mr Richard's comments there. I'd just like to say, as well, NHBC in general, we support many elements of the White Paper and feel that it will achieve what the Welsh Government's setting out to do.
The concern we do have is around the potential precluding of approved inspectors from the whole process, and it was really informative and interesting to hear, Mr Richards, about what the local authority is doing around resource with regard to upskilling, et cetera. And, from a point of view of the resource that would be required, obviously, it's very, very important that NHBC is included in that, because we do have that resource. And everything that Mr Richards was talking about, with regard to what the local authority is doing with their staff, that is already an ongoing process with the NHBC. Obviously, we have our major projects team that deals, on a daily basis, with category 1 buildings, and, you know, they do have a licence to practise, and they're constantly being upskilled and also assessed.
Okay, thank you, Paul. Andy, did you—? Yes. Andy.
Yes, I'd agree with both my colleagues, and I would say that the new systems will create a lot more administration, which will need a lot more documentation and resourcing to control that and pass it on to the relevant parties of stakeholders. I think, in my document that I submitted to the committee, I've asked—perhaps it's time for an audit of what building control resources are available and perhaps fire services resources that are available as well, because they have commented that they will struggle with putting the resources into place to deal with the impending workload that will be created. So, yes, I think you need to know what's available and what can be achieved before we put a system in place, when the staff perhaps won't be able to deal with that. And that's probably when you get on to regional controls, but I think we need to know exactly what staff we have available. And this goes across the whole of the UK. The RICS represents about 1,500 building control staff, but we all deal with projects in different areas, in partnership schemes, and there is a shortfall; there's a lot more ageing staff, who aren't being replaced by new and younger staff. I have a nephew based in Cardiff and he's had to go to Bristol to get trained, so he's struggling to get the resources to become a competent person, and that is an issue for our industry.
Okay. Could I—? Just as a follow-up, there may well be a need, then, to recruit greater numbers and add to the human resource to make the new system work properly. In terms of expertise, at that high level of expertise, to implement the system properly, and, hopefully, ensure that adequate resources—human and otherwise—are put in place, do we have that level of expertise in Wales, do you think, at the moment, to implement a new system properly? Peter.
Yes. I'd like to say we have—I think we have. Touching again on what LABC has done since Grenfell in upskilling our staff to achieve those competency levels, again, you'll be aware of the level 6 and the fire safety validation, those increased competency levels. Obviously, that's going on nationally—England and Wales—but there are 30 officers in Wales that have currently achieved that level of accreditation, validation. So, I think we have got—. In terms of the category 1 buildings, I think we're adequately resourced, but, as colleagues have said and I've said myself, those people are not going to be around for long, they are probably our most senior officers, and they are leaving us at a fair rate. So, the concern for me is bringing that new stock in and upskilling and training that new stock, which, I think, we've lacked for many a year. So, that—. I think we need to focus—is that new blood, and bringing that new stock in.
Okay, Peter. Paul.
Yes. Just touching again on our major projects model that we run—a centrally-based team in London, initially, but servicing all of the major cities across the UK—and talking specifically about Wales, yes, we have locally-based building control surveyors and building control inspectors as well. So, from a resource point of view, there's no problem there for NHBC as an approved inspector. And also, just thinking about own on in-house training services that we provide, we have different levels of building inspectors, depending on the complexity and the importance of the buildings that they inspect. So, we already run a system in that regard, and we have successful planning processes so that we're continually assessing and looking for what will be so we don't end up with an issue with regard to ageing building control surveyors who we'll be looking around then to replace. So, again, a system's already in place, plus the fact NHBC, as an improved inspector, is regulated as well and on the Construction Industry Council approved inspectors register. So, it's something we do have to do, obviously, to keep our licence.
Okay. Thanks, Paul. Andy, are you happy with that, you haven't got anything to add or—?
Just—. I currently work in a local authority. I was an approved inspector, so I've seen both sides of this field of building control, and, yes, I have to say I agree with Paul that the approved inspector bodies sometimes have greater resources. When I worked in Cardiff—when I was doing the Senedd, actually—my team was 14 staff, but I had 150 staff across the whole of Britain, with fire engineers, structural engineers and a good training plan within the company. So, it was a big enough company to deal with that. But I think my time in local authorities—it's a more difficult, complex area to get training, and there are smaller teams. Yes, there are some resources and some great staff that can deal with their projects, but I think there's a real mix of skills and competencies out there, and it's quite difficult to upgrade those skills.
Okay. Well, thank you, all three of you. One more question from me before I bring other committee members in: Welsh Government, in looking at competency levels and accountability in the building control sector, are proposing a unified professional and regulatory structure for building control. Is that something that you think is necessary and desirable—will it bring the beneficial change we want? Andy.
I think that's a good move. One of the criticisms between the two bodies of building control is that approved inspectors are regulated and monitored and they have to do a five-year programme of really checking their quality, their competency, and then they get reissued the licence, whereas, in local government, that isn't the case. So, I think a nationally consistent and professional approach to all of our competencies is a good move forward, and you will know exactly what you have, then, as a resource. So, I think that is a step forward.
Okay, thanks, Andy. Paul.
Yes, I would agree, and it is something that NHBC supports—you know, the White Paper talking about greater accountability and oversight, and you bring in the facets of independence and impartiality as well. I think creating a single approval and regulatory authority would support and enhance all that.
Okay. Peter, are you happy with that as well, or—?
I would just like to add, Chair, if I could—I agree with what my colleagues are saying, but I'm seeing the wider benefit of this accountability, this regulatory structure, across the range of professions and competencies. That'd bring so many benefits. My colleagues, I'm sure, will agree that, through the process of what we do, there's always that difficulty in establishing the person who is responsible and accountable. I think this will give us clarity, and is probably something that the profession has been calling for for a long, long time.
Okay. Well, thank you all very much. Okay, we'll turn to Laura Jones now. Laura.
I'd just like to talk about the scope of the new building safety regime, but, following on from something Andy just said, and the other gentleman, just to be clear, is the specific proposal to make local authority building control the sole regulator for category 1 buildings—six storeys and above—appropriate, and what concerns are there with this proposal? Andy.
Okay. Well, I think, to be honest, you need to establish on what basis that statement is being carried forward. Is it that you consider the approved inspector resource not competent—and there would be an argument against that—or—? You'd have to establish the reasoning behind that statement. I understand that you have more control over the local authority basis, and they are the enforcing agency, they can take the legal action to court, and they are the body that will effectively reinforce it, but there's no reason for having either body excluded on the basis of professional skill or competence, so, therefore, I would be just be concerned about why you've done that. If it's purely legal enforcement, that's a different situation. What happens currently is that the approved inspector simply hands the enforcement process back to the local authority to take to court, and that’s a system that has worked and is working. It could be better, but it is working at the moment. So, I just need to understand the basis of that system.
Yes, there does need to be an understanding of the basis of the system, but, from NHBC's point of view, that is a concern of the White Paper, to preclude the skill and expertise of NHBC. And just to reiterate, I'm obviously here today to give the views of NHBC, not the wider approved inspector industry. So, from our point of view, if we look at the volume of resource we could provide, but, more importantly, the expertise levels that we’ve got within the teams, and particularly the major projects team, which would be the team that covers the category 1 buildings, that would be a real concern for us, particularly as NHBC's core purpose is to improve the confidence in new build homes for home owners and policy holders. That would take away—strongly take away—the ability for that to happen, we feel. And 30 years' worth of experience—to preclude that I don't think would be a good move. So, that is our major concern about one of the White Paper's proposals.
Okay, thank you, Paul. Peter.
Yes, obviously I don't want to cause a debate with my colleagues. I'm of a slightly different opinion, although I do respect the skills and competencies of my colleagues. But I think it is appropriate, for the very reason that Dame Judith touched on, and that's in terms of that you shouldn't be able to choose your regulator. After all, this is an enforcement role, and I don't know of any other area or profession where you would be able to choose your regulator. It should be impartial; there should be no conflict of interest. Although, again, as I say, I don't want to go to war with anybody. I don't agree with Andy. I'm sorry to say, Andy, I don't agree with the comment you made about the enforcement working and the handing back to the local authority to undertake an enforcement role, because, in my experience in Swansea, anyway, that has never happened. I’ve never had a case handed back to me to enforce from an approved inspector. I'm aware of lots of issues. I'm not going to go into that—it’s not appropriate now—but, yes, in the main, and to emphasise the point again, it's an enforcement role, it should be totally impartial, exactly as Dame Judith mentioned. You shouldn't be able to choose your regulator.
Okay, thank you. That's interesting. It's quite okay to not all share the same opinion.
Paul, did you want to come back on that?
Yes, it was just to add something. It wasn't—you know, I'm of the same feeling as Mr Richards; I don't want to become confrontational. It's just to add the additional angle in from NHBC as being a regulated insurer as well. So, it's in our best interests that we're as tough as possible as we can be with the builders on the buildings that we cover to ensure the highest standards, because, if I take off my technical head and start talking with my insurance head, it's a case of, if we don’t ensure that the builders build it in accordance with the building regulations, there's the potential then that that would come back on NHBC as an insurer to then have to pay out.
Thank you very much, Paul, for that. This is a slight—just a question I wanted to ask you all, just for my own interest really, following on from what the fire and rescue service said earlier in the evidence we’ve just received from them. We were talking about category 1 buildings, and they said it was very important that we didn’t say 18m or higher and that it should be talked about as six storeys and higher, because you’ll find people building to 17.9m to fall into the different category. What are your thoughts on that, please? Andy.
Okay, well I think that is a very important point. I think, actually, the 18m is becoming a bit of an indefensible position, because there’s no reason for it being 18m other than the report that was done by Dame Judith Hackitt on a single fire that happened to be over 18m. The consequences of risk happen at all levels, and I don’t see—. I agree with the fire service, I don’t see that everything starts at 18m, that we need to take this onerous situation where we have a whole separate legislating system that only occurs above this factor. I did a nursing home in Cardiff, for instance, that was just four storeys with 200 people in, and that is an extremely high-risk building, and it does need an additional fire risk case, and it needs additional standards. So, I don't think the 18m rule is a good rule, and I think the scope that you've started saying, of two dwellings or more, is a great position to start the process. I think you could make even the highest category a much more general term than the 18m six-storey rule, but I think you've started well at the level where buildings are not safe; they've got higher risks, and even a single flat above a shop, for instance, has got a different problem basis, and I think those need to be considered. I don't think we can just write these off as safe by being under 18m. So, I understand the political, financial and reality of the amount of buildings that will come into this category, that it is extremely high and it will cause massive resourcing problems at all levels—finance and staff—but I don't think we should just write that off because over 18m is the only thing we can deal with. So, I have quite strong opinions on that and I agree with the fire service.
Thank you. My follow-up question to what you've just said, and you've just touched on it: do you all think that the scope of the proposed new regime is appropriate, and in particular, should it include all multi-occupied buildings, include licensed houses in multiple occupation, and could the scope be wider in some respect? The fire service said, as you've just said, flats above commercial properties. What are your thoughts on that?
Yes, I agree. It should include care homes, it should include student accommodation and hospitals. I think there are lots. If this is a building safety Bill, it should deal with the safety of all buildings, and I don't think we can just pick one category and hope that if we deal with that, then that makes the problem go away. So, I think we need to have this bigger remit, and your two dwellings and increasing it at that level is the way forward.
Thank you. Peter.
I agree with what Andy has said, 100 per cent. There are a couple of things there for me. Obviously, when we're talking about category 1 buildings and what the fire brigade have said, I think we've only got 148 of that type of building in Wales, and the guesstimate of what we're likely to build on the early basis is probably about five or six buildings a year, so it's just the tip of the iceberg. And Andy is perfectly correct: we can have a six-storey building—and we have in this new regime—but then we can have a five-storey building where we're adopting a totally different approach. We can submit an application today and start tomorrow; we can build to a disapproved plan; I can submit a piece of paper and make my specification up as I go along on a daily basis. It doesn't make any sense. There's a much wider remit and I think we're missing a big opportunity here. Massive task, I know; massive resource implication, I know. We could phase it in, but I think we could roll this out a lot further to cover and capture your multistorey schools, your hospitals. Again, we could debate it all day: your sleeping-risk buildings, there are a multitude of buildings where we've got occupancy risks that we're not considering.
Thank you. That's really interesting, Peter. Thanks. Paul, did you want to say something?
Nothing too much more to add, but just to reaffirm that it's all about the risk factor. It's all about the risk factor, and then obviously the protection of the occupants at the end of the day, and if that is something that is brought in, obviously, you've seriously got to look at the resourcing element of it. And obviously, I think it would be very, very difficult to apply that without the involvement of approved inspectors.
Okay, thank you. In your written evidence, Paul, NHBC refers to the fact that they think that reforms to building control could result in homes being less safe for home owners. Why is that?
Again, it's all around the preclusion of the expertise. It's concerned around resource, for example. We've seen some figures about the reduction in resource levels for local authorities, and depending on other areas of the industry we get involved in, but it's going back to that competency being the most important thing, and adding to the competency that exists within local authority building control. This is not a—[Inaudible.]—kind of scenario, it's an all in it together and providing the levels from a resource point of view, but the expertise levels as well. We're talking just about category 1 buildings, where we'd be slightly concerned about the relevance of that experience and how often these buildings come through. It's something that NHBC major projects team are dealing with on a daily basis. So, it's really that concern about potentially being less safe from not having the adequate checks that they would need to have, if there's a resource issue around that and you preclude all the initial resource and expertise that NHBC can provide.
Okay, thank you. Anyone want to add anything? I think that's all then, Chair. Thanks.
Okay. Thank you very much, Laura. Okay, and Mandy Jones.
Thank you, Chair. I'd like to talk about design and construction, please. Does the White Paper adequately recognise the expertise and competence of private approved inspectors for building control purposes? And what opportunities might the new building safety regime present for joint working between LABC and approved inspectors? Peter.
If I get my opinion out of the way first, I think the proposals do recognise the private approved inspectors. Clearly, they have a role to play in the category 2 developments. In terms of the joint working, obviously I've got a biased opinion. My instinctive response is, no, there's no opportunity for joint working; I don't think it's appropriate. Would anybody consider working jointly with a competitor? Probably not, I don't think. Enforcers and regulators, at the end of the day, you cannot work with profit-making organisations if you're enforcing and regulating, I don't think. Building control professionals should be free, I think, to enforce the building regulations appropriately without the underlying need to make a profit. I do appreciate what my colleagues are probably about to say. [Laughter.]
Yes, I've got, obviously, a slightly different opinion having worked both sides. I agree with some of the points, but I would say that the system is set up that we work either/or, we either do one side or the other, and it has become a culture that we don't tread on each other's toes when we've decided who is doing the building control. I don't think there's any less of a standard; I think, obviously, one body can enforce and one body cannot enforce. That's a major difference and a major issue, but we could work together if the culture and the system were different, but it is a challenge and it's going to be a challenge. And, yes, one is set up as a regulatory system, one is set up as a profit-making company, and I totally accept that. We have a different culture in our business plans, but I don't think the professional standard is any different, I don't think the professional skills are any different, and I think that we could work together but the system stops that at the moment.
Obviously, I'm going to take a different view from Mr Richards. So, it would be case that if it precludes the use of approved inspectors, then I would say that it doesn't recognise and take account of the skills and expertise. And also, I'd just like to reiterate as well that NHBC is a non-profit distributing organisation, so it's not that we've got shareholders or we have to pay anything out to shareholders; it's a case of we do reuse any profits that we do make for the good of the industry and NHBC always would be open to any form of collaboration that would result in safer buildings in Wales. But to preclude us based on an argument as a 'profit-making organisation' I don't think is looking at the bigger picture and the core purpose of NHBC. I've already said it today about improving the quality and the confidence in new-build homes for new home owners.
Maybe you could all have a chat later together and see if you could all—. [Laughter.] Right, my next question is—. It's a start. To what extent is there currently effective collaboration between the various stakeholders—development, building control, planning, fire and rescue service, et cetera—involved in the design and the construction phase, and do the proposals in the White Paper do enough to promote joint working between all parties? We're back to joint working again. Okay, Andy.
I think we've got an excellent working relationship with the fire services, and that's across the board in both camps, and we work closely with them. The system is still set up that we don't tread on each other's toes and we work independently. We consult with the fire service. We don't necessarily liaise with them fully, so there's a different system in place on that. Planning: that's a problem because planning often gets resolved before we get involved as building control, so therefore there's a staggering of involvement of stakeholders that is difficult for us to deal with, because usually something like the design of the building is resolved before we even get to see it. So, we are not involved early stages, early enough to be instrumental in fire safety design, and that is one of the things, I think, that's changing with gateway 1 and making planners consult with fire services, but it's a limited involvement at that stage. We don't get involved until far too late, in my view. The other part of the stakeholder is the building owner, landlord. We have great difficulty in getting information out of their records for existing buildings, particularly. That's a major problem of the resource of information. We often have to work from scratch and just find out what the building is and deal with it as we see it, and that's not a good working relationship as a stakeholder. So, I think those are some of the areas where it could be improved.
Yes. I was just going to push you on that to see about retrospective stuff that's been put on.
Dealing with existing buildings is going to be a huge problem, in that there isn't any information on these buildings, or very limited, out-of-date information. No-one keeps them up to date, no-one checks things that are being replaced—things like fire doors, things like the fire safety systems, fire alarms. And, therefore, it's a very disjointed information process, in that we get called in, it might be a minor alteration, it could be a major alteration, and we don't know the history. There's no resource, there are no links with the tenancies and the landlords or building owners, and that becomes a huge problem for us as regulators and as inspectors to find out what we're dealing with. We just don't know sometimes, and it is a problem. If we can get the legacy buildings up to speed, that will be a huge increase in fire safety and a benefit to all building control.
Yes, I agree very much with what Andy has said. I think it's fair to say that in most cases there is excellent collaboration with relevant stakeholders, in particular the fire brigade—maybe some room for improvement here and there. Yes, again, to repeat what Andy said, when we tend to get to hear about these developments, it's too late. From a building control perspective and speaking on behalf of my fire service colleagues, we need to be involved at that early stage. We've tried to influence our planning colleagues to open that door for us as early as possible. It has happened in some places, but I don't think it'll last too long. We've had various initiatives where we've tried to have that early engagement—you know, the design team approach, where we'd sit around the table and we'd call in the relevant stakeholders like the fire brigade, highways, water and sewerage, all of that sort of thing. There are some good examples of that, but it's not enough. We really need to engage early so that we can, obviously—not design, because we can't design, but feed into that design process. It does streamline things when it comes to making applications. It streamlines that process and it saves a hell of a lot, then, when you actually get to site and all of the problems have been ironed out. So, for me, yes, it is offering that early engagement with planning. That is an improvement, it is a benefit, but I think we need, somehow, to look at how building control professionals get involved at that early stage as well, and have that early engagement.
What do you think about what Andy just said, when I said about the retrospective stuff that's been put on?
Again, it is very difficult. I can't remember the exact comment Andy made about the problems. I don't think it's a problem across the board. It's probably more so a problem in the private sector. I think public sector housing and high-rise is more strictly controlled. But it is difficult to get into these buildings to find out about these buildings. You see that every day since Grenfell. The snowball effect of Grenfell is that hares are running out there now with not just the six storeys and above but even the lower rise buildings with cladding. It's a bit of a nightmare out there now. Of course, everybody's getting a share of the criticism—who's responsible, who's accountable, who's fault it is. These proposals might clear things up for the future, and we'll have that responsibility and accountability, but it's an absolute nightmare dealing with these legacy issues from high-rise buildings.
I'll bring you in in a minute, Paul. I asked that question because I've got a flat in Cardiff that has got that cladding on and we've got that problem. It's been tested and nobody will take responsibility for it. The owners cannot sell those buildings.
Absolutely, yes. It's a nightmare. I do sympathise.
Thank you. Paul.
Thank you, Ms Jones. It was just to talk about the collaboration, really, and the model that NHBC runs. As a regulated insurer, we do have an obligation to get involved as early as possible. We run very stringent technical risk management processes. One of our desires is to get in as early as possible, based on years and years of claims experience, not just with fire but how and why things go wrong, and trying to get those designed out early on before a builder starts on site. So, that's one of the systems we run. Also, with the major project teams, we have a multidisciplinary team in relation to fire, with fire specialists. We have good collaboration with fire authorities as well for category 1 buildings, facade specialists, structural engineers and different types of surveyors as well. So, on collaboration of stakeholders, just thinking about NHBC's model, there is a lot of that that goes on as early as possible in the pre-construction phase.
Do you do anything with the retrospective or just the new constructions?
Probably a good point I should make is that the ultimate responsibility to build in accordance with the building regulations lies with the builder—fact. With regard to the retrospective, obviously, we have a Buildmark warranty policy, and if there's a valid claim against the terms and conditions of that policy, then, yes, we do get involved.
Okay. Thank you.
Andy just wanted to come in at the end there.
Sorry, Andy, I didn't see you.
Sorry, I just have one more comment. I've got a little bit of two hats on with my RICS brief. There is a problem with the surveying, the sales and the certification—the EWS1 form. I know my colleagues are dealing with that and having problems. I've just approved a three-storey building covered in timber cladding, which complies with the building regulations, but they can't sell the flats in that building because of the surveys and the cladding requirements that are being brought up by the surveyors and the borrowers—that's another criteria. So, it's a melting pot out there, and I would say to the committee that we need to get the regulations right first and then we can say to the surveyors, 'It complies with the regulations', and then they will be happy taking on that risk, and the same for the lenders. So, I think there's a mix and a melting pot of getting the ideas in a row and getting them straight. Otherwise, we've got this conflict that is happening at the moment.
Thank you all very much. Dawn Bowden.
Thanks, John. Hello, everyone, how are you? I just wanted to ask a couple of questions around the occupation phase and what you see as the role of building control in that. The White Paper has suggested that the skills and expertise that are available within building control could be used during this particular phase. What opportunities do you think there might be for building control professionals to contribute to building safety during that occupation phase? Peter.
Potentially, I think there's a lot that could be offered from building control. Our fire service colleagues are quite clear, I think—I don't think they'll deny this—that they know a lot about fire safety but probably not too much about structure. I hope I'm not being too disrespectful there towards colleagues in the fire brigade. Obviously, there's a lot of familiarity. If we've dealt with any particular building in question, we'll have a knowledge of the fire strategy and how it's meant to work, and the different component parts of the building. Obviously, we'll have the golden thread that's gone through the design and construction through to the occupation. We'll also have the specialist knowledge of the construction like compartmentation, means of escape, fire resistance—all of those fire-related issues that are key and critical. We're not clear yet, at this stage, what our involvement will be, but, again, it's another resource implication, I suppose, which we'll have to consider when the future becomes clearer.
Yes. Sorry, Andy and Paul, before I bring you in—you don't have any role in this at the moment, do you?
Indirectly, we do. From a local authority perspective, we'd be called in by environmental health colleagues to give opinion. So, it does go on behind the scenes; there is involvement there. Obviously, there's no power, as such; as you know, it's all in the housing Act. Of course, our fire service colleagues might touch base from time to time. So, it's going on indirectly; there's no formal arrangement, as such.
Okay. I understand. Paul and Andy—Andy, yes.
I think the big point is that we need a gateway, like it's being voiced at the moment, of saying, 'We cannot occupy until this date'. We would welcome that, as a building control profession, because we'd get lines in the sand then that will not be crossed, and we can enforce that. At the moment, we've just got a final certificate and there's no balance when it's occupied or not; it can be occupied before you get the building signed off, sometimes.
There's a complication in buildings that are partly occupied and we get to sign parts of the building off, but that's detail, you know; we can sort that out, I'm sure. Occupation is something that's missing from building regs in that term, but it's something that could be used as a stick, for want of a better word, to force the developer, the contractor and the building manager to get together to get the information in place before we put people at risk in that building.
So, I think it's a good step. I think it needs to be strong enough to be enforced, and I think that's obviously something that we need to use. It's a bit like Scotland; they've got a warrant that you can't start work until everything is in place. We don't have that in England and Wales, and that's another weakness. So, starting is one point and occupation is the second point, certainly. I think they are good lines in the sand, if that's the right term.
Nothing really further to add to what the two gentlemen have provided there. It's not really an area that NHBC operate in. I think it's a good opportunity for local authorities, but you do think about what affects would that have on the resources issue then as well.
I get that. All of this predicated on the fact that you've got the capacity to do everything, isn't it? I do take that.
In terms of joint inspection teams, then, what opportunities do you think that presents to promote greater collaboration, and do you think there should be a role for the private sector in this as well? With the joint inspection teams I'm talking about now. Peter.
I'm going to be controversial again, I suppose.
Go on, it livens things up a bit. That's all right.
I'll leave the controversial bit until last, then. There are varying degrees of interpretation of what this is, but my understanding is that it's replicating what they have in England to offer assistance to authorities to remedy defects in existing buildings. Is my understanding correct?
I'm aware that there's work going on behind the scenes to replicate what's being done in England. I've had a little bit of involvement in that. Obviously, the team, I think, lends itself perfectly to being the three critical areas of building control, the fire service and, of course, environmental health. As I touched on earlier, it is going on indirectly. Obviously, this would formalise that arrangement.
I'm not really convinced, in terms of discussions I've been involved with—. Obviously, we haven't got the scale of the issue in Wales that it is in England, in terms of the number of buildings that we've got. So, I don't think it's a case of having that permanently based team or permanently employed set of individuals. It probably lends itself better to maybe a secondment or a part-time arrangement, and perhaps on a virtual basis, if you know what I mean. Who employs them? Again, that's a matter for debate.
In terms of the controversial bit, again it's that enforcement role. For my approved inspector colleagues, it's that conflict again, isn't it? It is advising on potential enforcement at the end of day. The joint enforcement team will be advising the authorities to take enforcement, potentially, against—[Inaudible.]—owners and the like. They are profit making, so I don't see where the interest would be for them in that respect.
Not much money in it.
No, I don't think so. I don't think there's any money in it. [Laughter.]
Okay. All right. Thank you. Paul, did you want to come in on that?
Again, it's not about the money side of things, is it? It's about the level playing field to be able to provide the safest buildings we can. We do share our knowledge across the public and the private sectors. We do want to work across the sector and become involved in any new safety system, particularly in Wales, and we already are involved with similar initiatives in England as well. So, yes, I do see that there are opportunities to share knowledge and work collaboratively for the ultimate goal and for the good of everyone.
Sure. Okay. Andy, did you have your hand up to say something?
Yes. I'm almost agreeing with both of my colleagues here—almost. I agree that regulatory panels should be completely council based, if you like, or government based, because that's the independence it needs and the resource it needs. Maybe it could draw in skills from approved inspectors to provide a report on what's wrong, but the body obviously has to have the power of law, and it has to have the resources of Government to function. And it's a completely different role; you're acting as a—in bringing in some consultants, like a structural engineer, or any other specialist, to give you advice on what's wrong, and that could use approved inspectors in a consultancy role. So, that's a completely independent process, and there can't be any conflict of interest, otherwise it wouldn't work, and I agree with that. I think it's a good thing to have an oversight body to be a regulator, and I think that's a step forward.
Okay. On that, then, on regulation generally, and how the new system might be regulated: what are your views on whether it should be a single regulator, multiple regulators, whether it should operate locally, regionally, Wales wide? And do you think there needs to be consistency with England, which, I think, probably was the point you were talking about a little bit earlier, Peter? So, what are your thoughts around that? Peter, yes.
Again, it's another one we could debate and you could ask five different people and get five different answers. For me, it's fair to say, I think, I do tend to agree with the scale of the issue in Wales. We don't need to replicate what's been done in England—I'll make that point again I made earlier. We definitely need a more robust system, and I think the proposals in the White Paper will give us the tools to achieve that.
Obviously, we've already discussed the investment in skills and the competency and succession planning, and all the resilience to deliver. So, I think, with improvement of the current system and the measures indicated in the proposal combined—again, my controversial bit—removing the choice of regulator, because I don't think that should be there, if we are regulating, perhaps with the added scrutiny of an overseeing board or panel, committee, call it what you want, and then that gives us our joint competence authority, like Dame Judith was suggesting. And in terms of delivery, we definitely need to consider regional working in Wales or, if not, an all-Wales approach. We have to consider that, I think, going forward.
Wales is probably small enough to be able to do that, isn't it?
I believe so, yes.
Yes. Okay. Sorry. Paul.
We think there should be a single approval and regulatory organisation, and we do think it should be Wales wide, so that it oversees all governing control bodies, including local authority and approved inspectors. But, Peter, you touched on an unified competency framework as well, and I know that's something that we would be in agreement with as well, just to get that consistency and the oversight and the accountability as well.
Okay, thanks. Andy.
Yes. I don't think having another tier making it a different level again will help clarity or quality, and I'm just concerned. I think England have got this wrong in putting it in the HSE, for instance; I don't think that's the right fit, and I don't think that'll help the systems in the fire service, the housing departments, the environmental health or the building control bodies in question. So, I think improve the systems you've got is the way forward and don't invent a new tier to hope that they are going to sort out the systems underneath it. I just think that's not going to give you the quality of improvement that you wish for, and I've got concerns over adding this other tier, because I don't think that actually adds anything. We need improvements where the work is being done now.
Okay. That's really helpful. Thank you. Thanks, John.
Okay. Thank you very much, Dawn. Well, that completes the questions from committee members, unless you have anything further you'd like to add to what you've already said on anything at all that's relevant.
No, thank you.
No? Okay. Well, thank you, all, very much. Thank you, Peter, Paul and Andy for coming into committee today virtually to give evidence. It's very useful. Thank you very much indeed. We will send you a transcript of this session so you're able to check it for factual accuracy.
Thank you very much.
Good to meet you, Peter and Andy, too.
Yes, you too. Take care, all.
Okay. Committee will break for 15 minutes before our next evidence session.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:40 a 16:00.
The meeting adjourned between 15:40 and 16:00.
We resume our committee meeting today, then, with item 4 and our third evidence session in our inquiry into fire safety in high-rise blocks in Wales and looking at the Welsh Government's White Paper 'Safer Buildings in Wales: A Consultation'. I'm very pleased to welcome Jason Clarke, head of risk management for Warwick Estates; Nigel Glen, chief executive officer of the Association of Residential Managing Agents; and Mark Snelling, health, safety and fire adviser to the association. Welcome to you all and thanks for coming along to give evidence today. We'll be very interested to hear the views of managing agents, and perhaps I might begin with a general question, really, before I bring in other committee members with further questions, and that is: to what extent do the proposals in the White Paper meet expectations? Are they radical enough and do they meet the specific needs of managing agents? Okay, who would like to—
I'll start on that one. As a managing agent, anything that tries to regulate what is going on before the building comes to us is really, really helpful. As we've said a couple of years ago in the same format, the problem we have a lot of the time is when buildings don't have the information that they should have, so the plans for the building, the fire strategies, all those sorts of things. So, putting something into place like this is really beneficial to us, especially when we're picking up buildings that are second or third hand, so five or six years after they've been built, and that information has disappeared. So, something like this is a really big benefit and helps us manage the property a lot better, a lot more efficiently.
Okay, thank you, Jason. Would either Nigel or Mark like to add anything?
Yes, thank you, Chair. If I can speak for ARMA, we welcome the proposals. Anything that improves building safety has to be a good thing. We are seeing from, unfortunately, the investigations that are carrying on into the current stock that the current system obviously is not fit for purpose, because we are finding faults all the way through, the scale and the scope of which we are still determining, and I'm happy to talk on that a little bit later. There are, obviously, as always, some comments we have and some nuances, but the general direction we certainly applaud.
Okay. Thanks for that, Nigel. Mark, you didn't want to add anything, did you?
Only briefly, in that certainly residents' responsibilities—it's clear what you're proposing in broad terms is right, but I think some of the proposals in the proposed English building safety Bill appear to go that slight bit further, which will allow—. One of the stated aims of switching from the fire safety Order to the building safety Bill is to deal with the risk of fire, which, of course, is within a flat, and I notice that the English Bill is very clear that residents' items of gas safety and electrical are included, and it's unclear whether your proposals include that, which would seem to be—and, certainly, rights of access is another very important thing for managing agents and responsible people or accountable people to be able to do what they need to do.
Thank you, Mark. Okay, we'll move on then to Laura. Laura Jones.
Thank you, Chair. Welcome, everybody. The White Paper proposes that the default position in the absence of anyone being nominated to the role—that the freeholder will be the accountable person during the occupation phase. What, if any, challenges might this present given the sometimes complex structures of leasehold buildings?
If I may answer that first, Chair—sorry, we have some feedback there. Laura, if I may call you that, thank you very much for that, you have rightly pointed out the problem with leasehold is it is complex. So, it's not hard to see that the freeholder could actually just be the person who owns the land and has no influence on the building, didn't even build it, it went to somebody else. Grosvenor Estate gets a 1,000-year lease, so why would they be the accountable person? And another issue could well be that somebody who has the ability to raise the funds and therefore do something about it, for example, a residents management company that doesn't want this responsibility, so they will be very happy to pass it by default by not stepping up to the plate to the freeholder, who actually has no means of recovering the costs that are suddenly being put on him or her. So, it's not perfect. One suggestion is the building owner but, again, RMCs and right-to-manage companies, et cetera, tripartite leases might make that more difficult. So, it needs more careful thought, if I may suggest that.
Yes, I agree with you. The fire service said earlier it's very important that we get that sorted ASAP, really, because it's important for them to know the accountable person to do their role. Anyone else like to comment on that?
I agree with Nigel's comments.
Okay. Thank you. Who should undertake fire risk assessments? Should it be someone independent of the building owner, manager or residents?
I'm happy to go on that one again. My belief is it should be somebody independent, if only to give leaseholders reassurance that what's been done is correct, because if you have a firm, even a subsidiary of a firm, certifying its own system, that can never feel right. So, personally, I believe it should be an independent third party who does that.
It certainly makes sense. Anyone else want to comment?
Yes, we do them internally, so as long as the people are competent and we have the set frameworks, and we follow the relevant documentation for risk assessments and things, as long as people are competent—. I do understand Nigel's point there about a possibility that there is conflict of interest maybe, but we almost work as a separate department in Warwick Estates. So, everything that the fire service would—. Everything we have is in line with what the fire service would pick up. We have prime authority with the fire service as well, so our reports are reviewed by them and we've also had them reviewed by the Health and Safety Executive, and they're happy with the reports that we produce. So, there'll be a few different avenues on that because some managing agents don't use an internal source, and some do.
Okay. Just on the back of what you're saying there, Jason, what are your views on the qualifications and experience of people who undertake the fire risk assessments, and the competence—?
What's happening within our company, we're looking at getting everybody to level 4 of fire safety, so a very similar qualification to what the fire risk inspector would have in the fire service. So, that's what we want to do through this year. It's competency based and experience based as well, but that is the sort of level that we'd be looking at—level 3 with good experience, and level 4 would be something where you're at the same level as the local fire officer.
There needs to be some real clarity on what the competency standards are, which will probably tie in with some of the work that's coming out of the British Standards Institution at the minute, but it would be really good that we knew what 'good' looked like.
Okay, thank you. The White Paper makes a number of proposals aimed at maintaining compartmentation throughout the occupation phase, placing duties on the accountable person and residents. Are these proposals sufficient, and what challenges would enforcing these provisions present to building managers?
I think a big problem is inside a flat. It's impossible—well, pretty much impossible—to actually know what somebody's doing. I've knocked down walls in my own flat when I was leasing it and could have breached compartmentalisation without realising it. So, I think that is a challenge. There could possibly be ways around that, These are not in the paper at the moment, but some potential solutions could be, if you're renting a flat out, like an energy performance certificate every three or five years, you have to have a fire risk assessment done inside the flat, and when you sell your flat, for example, because that would cycle the stock, again, you need a fire risk assessment done. So, there are ways around that.
That is critical, because, like it or not, you can have written in a lease that you must seek authority before making internal changes but people will ignore that, either because they're like I was, naive and didn't realise and hadn't read my lease, or people want to avoid having to pay a £200 licence fee to have somebody competent come and say, 'Well, what you're doing is correct'. It's not just an admin fee, it's actually to have somebody giving oversight. And I think that's going to be true of anything—leasehold, and, when commonhold comes, that has to be in there as well, because you are living in a community where your actions can affect other people around you.
Yes, absolutely, because that's not the case at the moment, is it? You have to have one done if you're renting a property, don't you, but not if you're selling a property? Is that right?
Yes. Well, I know Dame Judith Hackitt was saying that the managing agent should go inside everybody's flats when they're doing the fire risk assessments on the communal area, and I'm afraid we said that would mean the assessor would probably be living in the building all year, because you just won't be able to get access.
Thank you. That's very interesting. Thanks, Chair.
Thank you, Laura. One or two further questions from me on the scope of the new building safety regime. I'm just wondering, really, if you think the scope that's proposed is appropriate, and in particular whether it should include all multi-occupied buildings, including licensed houses in multiple occupation. Would you have any thoughts as to whether the proposed ambit might be further widened to include other properties? Who would like to begin?
I will start, I suppose. With the buildings that are within the scope—I was having a chat with Nigel before—most of the categories would be fair to be set up. The issue is with the smaller sites, because for maybe two units—we get a lot of flats or buildings that have just two units—the cost of meeting the regulations would be much more stringent on those than it would be on somebody who lived in a block with 100 other people. So, maybe it's a little bit too much in some areas, but, again, it could be maybe separated into two storeys and a small amount of units and then up to 9m, and then over 9m up to 18m, and 18m and over. It's a difficult one to pinpoint, really, because there are so many different types of buildings and which buildings fall into—. You might have something that's got a lot of units but might not be too high, but because of the way it's worked out it will fall into the more stringent categories.
I see. Okay, Jason. And Nigel.
Yes, Jason and I were having a chat about this beforehand, because the two categories, to me, of—. It's always nice not to have too complex a situation, so 18m and above, I think everybody agrees with that, but then everything below 18m—. I don't know the size—. I don't think anybody does know the size and the shape of the market—you know, how many of these leaseholds are actually one-up, one-down conversions of a maisonette, because then is it proportionate to require an annual fire risk assessment for what is effectively a stairway and a light bulb? From a health and safety point of view, that's good, but from a proportionality and cost point of view, that's tricky. One hates to say, 'Could you add more categories?', but instead of number of dwellings, which, for example, is one of the options—option B—which was five and above, which has a certain sense, should you do height? So, frankly, one storey, do we need it at all, because, and I'm not being flippant, you just have to get out of the closest door or window? Two storeys, slightly different, but again maybe just a very light touch there, again because you can escape fairly easily. Three storeys up to six, then yes, much more—probably what we're seeing now in the lower category, category 2. And then category 1 of the six storeys and above. So, perhaps something just so that we're not using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and putting a lot of costly administration on the Government, the regulator, and these smaller landlords as well. I'll leave Mark to talk about other things such as residents' homes and so forth.
I'm not sure how to follow on with that one. My major concern was those lower categories. I'm not sure what I can add to that.
No. Okay, Mark, that's fine. Thanks. Okay, we'll move on, then, to Mandy Jones.
I'd like to talk about registration and licensing. Should all residential property managing agents be subject to mandatory regulation, and what minimum standards should managing agents have to meet, and how effective are the current voluntary schemes?
May I leap in there, because that one's dear to my heart? I regulate, on a voluntary basis, the market in England and Wales, and I don't think that is right, because all it means is somebody has to leave ARMA and I send them a letter afterwards, and that's about it. So, we have been very keen for years for proper regulation. And the reason for that is not to be heavy handed, but if you think about it, the managing agent is looking after people's health and safety, fire and financial. ARMA members alone—I have 330 firms—hold £1.5 billion of other people's money. I'll use myself as an example. I set my managing agency up in a back bedroom and was handed nearly £0.5 million of somebody else's money on day one. I hope I was a good guy—at least I took the trouble to go and talk to a lawyer for a day or two, et cetera. But, otherwise, all you need to do is print a business card, and that just can't be right in this modern day and age. So, I'm very keen that managing agents are licensed.
There is, of course, Lord Best's regulation of property agents proposal, which has been sitting on the UK Government's books now for nearly two years. That seems to make sense, to bring that forward. Also, on general licensing, I think it should protect all leaseholders, not just those who engage a professional managing agent. But I do believe in choice and, again, proportionality: one up, one down—do you really need a licence to operate? I would argue probably not. But once you get above a certain size—let's say 10 units; that's what the Law Commission use—I think there should be a choice there. You can self-manage if you want, but you then need to go to a regulator to get a licence to operate, and you have to be a fit and proper person, you have to have client money protection, if that's in place, you have to have proper professional indemnity insurance, et cetera, et cetera. Or, you hire somebody else who has that, and then that relieves you of that obligation. That's my soap box, if I may, but I'm very pro regulation because I just don't feel it's right at the moment.
I've just come off training ARMA members on health and safety, and I was last week dealing with fire safety. One of the things that I've been passionate about ever since I've been working with ARMA, and we are looking at it within ARMA, is the accreditation of managing agents for health, safety and fire compliance, because I think that will drive a lot of the change that's required to bring everybody up to the required standard. I believe you're aware of the Building Safety Alliance that's looking at the accreditation or certification of managing agents, and part of the underlying remit of that is to look at whether we can bring in some changes through that to the industry. It's something that I think is absolutely essential to change the playing field, and whatever we can do to achieve it, I think we have to.