It’s not possible, it simply can’t be a month since I last sat down and wrote my first Presidential column for the June copy of our Journal. The calendar concurs of course but I don’t really believe it. The phrase ‘a week is a long time in politics’ is usually attributed to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, so what do you think can happen in a month? Well, I can tell you – we can witness a Prime Minister announcing her resignation and have another two Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) consultations come out!
Another day, another really important MHCLG consultation
First up we saw the government consultation on Changing Places Toilets emerge. According to the Changing Places Consortium, a group of organisations working to support the rights of people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and/or other physical disabilities, over 250,000 people need Changing Places toilets to enable them to get out and about and enjoy the day-to-day activities that many of us take for granted.
This includes people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, as well as older people.
The Consortium go on to suggest that to use the toilet in safety and comfort, many people need to be able to access a Changing Places, which have more space and the right equipment, including a height adjustable changing bench and a hoist.
The consultation is seeking views on proposals to increase the provision of Changing Places toilets. The proposed approach is to introduce a mandatory requirement for Changing Places toilets in Building Regulations with a view to ‘mandating’ Changing Places toilets in specific new, large buildings commonly used by the public or where a building undergoes a material alteration, an extension or a change of use - which is great.
It’s not all clear cut though. There are two pertinent questions in the consultation, which seek responses on whether we should be providing smaller toilets in certain situations. That’s not necessarily something I’m personally in favour of, not least because they should be accessible to and usable by as many potential users as possible. Standardisation of facilities is generally considered an important factor in their use and effectiveness and for their user’s independence, experience and confidence. However, that’s only my personal view, more importantly we need to hear from you!
Our CABE team, lead by our Technical Director Richard Harral, jumped into action as soon as this important consultation came out. Members should have received an email by now inviting them to respond to the questions set out in the consultation that will allow us to collate a CABE response that will go forward to MHCLG for consideration. It is so important that you have your say. You can find CABE’s response form to this consultation here.
Grenfell, next steps
On 6 June, Government published its consultation on next steps following the Grenfell tragedy, and Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of the Building Regulations and Fire Safety that followed. The consultation, all 192 pages of it, proposes a stronger voice for residents of high-rise buildings to ensure their concerns are never ignored. This includes better information regarding their buildings so that they can participate in decisions about safety, as well as clear and quick routes of escalation for their concerns if things do go wrong. But the consultation document rightfully doesn’t stop there.
Clearer accountability for building safety
Dame Judith recommended the creation of a system of ‘dutyholders’, people who will have responsibility for keeping residents of these buildings safe, and making sure building regulations are followed. Going forward the government propose that such ‘dutyholders’ will be responsible for keeping vital safety information about how the building was designed, built and is managed. This is known as the ‘golden thread’ of information and the intention is that it will be kept electronically for the entire life of a building, from its design to its place as a home for residents. The people responsible for this information will have to make sure it is up to date and that the right people can access it, including residents.
Powers and sanctions
If the people responsible for a building ignore their responsibilities, a new building safety regulator, which is also proposed, will have the authority to take enforcement action against them. This could include criminal and civil sanctions, like fines or imprisonment.
The building safety regulator will be responsible for overseeing the safety of new and existing buildings. Their strong focus will be on checking that safety is being properly considered and necessary safety measures are put in place when new high rise residential buildings are being designed and built, and that robust safety measures are in place for existing buildings. The intention is that, as a result, the regulator and people responsible for a building’s safety will be working towards the common goal at the heart of the new regime – the safety of residents. The government is also consulting on new ways of ensuring that construction products are safe and used properly.
Implementing clearer standards and guidance
For the building safety regulator to work effectively, the government believes that clearer standards and guidance need to be produced too. For construction products and systems standards, the government proposes creating a new standards committee to provide it with impartial advice on the new standards and guidance.
The government has also already consulted on a full-scale technical review of the building regulations guidance on fire safety, known as Approved Document B. The intention is to improve accessibility and usability of the guidance by publishing a single, online searchable document of all the approved documents and guide to the building regulations so everyone in the industry is clear on how to use them.
There’s a lot here, and it is imperative that you take the time to look as this consultation too. The full consultation document and supporting documentation can be found here.
However, you will be glad to know that the CABE team has prepared a response form for you, similar to what we’ve already done for the Changing Places Toilets consultation, and this will be available to you by the time you read this.
CABE Board Meeting
June also saw my first CABE Board meeting with me in the Chair. As per normal the Board met the night before for a meal which was great fun and provided the perfect opportunity to have a catch-up with our new members, Richard Flynn and Jake Simpson. Unlike a few others, I was most sensible and retired to bed quite early that evening having had only a few diet cokes…We did however hit the ground running with a 9am start on the Saturday morning. It’s fair to say that Gavin Dunn, our CEO, and all of the CABE team have done a tremendous job these last 12 months. We’ve achieved so much because of their hard work but we still have so much more to do – for we are only 1 year into our 5 year development plan. The first main duty for me at the meeting was to install Stewart McArthur as our new Vice-President. Stewart looked mighty proud and deservedly so too.
Thereafter, what followed was a very full agenda, that included next steps on the refurbishment of our beloved Lutyens House, an Engineering Council update and a financial report to name but a few items. In addition, a major part of the agenda was spent discussing and making a decision on our new brand – and I mean ‘brand’ and not just our logo. There’s still much work to do but I would like to think we will have much of it ready for you for our Conference in Manchester later this year. As if you needed another reason to want to come along!
Right, that’s it from me for now. I head north again next week to one of my favourite cities, Newcastle, to attend the buildeng Northern event which just happens to clash with my 20th Wedding Anniversary. Will Mrs Burd ever forgive me? Find out next time. Have a good month and get your responses in to those two important consultations.