Why we cannot lose sight of the importance of building safety during COVID-19
Rund Partnership’s Director, Paul Belfield, shares his thoughts on the Government’s new building safety regulations and their implementation during the COVID pandemic.
“The coronavirus pandemic has taken over our news feeds and become central to almost every discussion occurring within our industry. Health and safety has been the priority above all else, with strict social distancing measures in place to ensure the wellbeing of all parties involved in construction projects. While this is undoubtedly of the highest importance, building safety improvements still need to be recognised as essential during these uncertain times.
An overview of the new building safety regulations
“The Government recently confirmed the biggest changes to building safety in a generation, with new specifications put in place to remediate unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding systems on buildings over 18 metres tall, as well as new measures to introduce mandatory sprinkler systems and consistent wayfinding signage in all new blocks of flats over 11 metres tall. This followed the announcement of a new £1 billion Building Safety Fund to pay for the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding.
Looking back: previous cladding regulations
“The Grenfell tragedy has been the main driver in the decision to put significant investment into the removal of unsafe cladding. As a result, many buildings across the country are now being reviewed. While the cladding used with many of these developments under review will have been compliant with existing regulations at the time of build, we applaud the decision to implement these stricter health and safety measures to help protect residents.
“We are fortunate as an industry to be constantly developing technology which helps assess certain materials and their effectiveness and as a result, regulations are being continually changed and improved. The most important thing is not to linger in retrospect – instead, we need to focus on being adaptable and agile, complying with new regulations as soon as possible to rectify emerging issues.
The considerations of new building safety measures
“While the new fire safety regulations represent a hugely positive step forwards in the construction industry, there are a few considerations.
“One consideration is VAT costs. Generally, the supply of construction services to build new dwellings has a 0% VAT rating, so that contractors can recover any VAT incurred from supplying those services and employer landowners do not suffer any VAT costs. However, there is a question mark over whether construction work to replace defective cladding can be classed as zero-rated. At a minimum, for zero-rating to apply, the original construction work must have been zero-rated with its original cladding – which is now considered defective – and the person or company commissioning the remedial work must have commissioned the original zero-rated construction. However, the original contractor does not need to be used for the work to qualify for zero-rated VAT, which is helpful if they are unavailable for the new works. As guidelines are somewhat unclear and continually shifting, HMRC has stated that each individual case must be considered separately to determine the correct VAT treatment.
“Other considerations include how many of those who now own a building or unit with unsafe cladding are struggling to sell their property. New installations of any kind to occupied premises will always result in a form of disruption for existing residents. And the COVID pandemic threatens to slow all safety improvement processes down due to a variety of reasons, including staff shortages, pressure on the supply chain and strict distancing rules.
A collective effort to implement new building safety measures
“Fortunately, the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP has stressed that this work can still be done safely within health guidelines and Local Government leaders have recently pledged a commitment to follow this through during the pandemic. All parties involved in a construction project should be doing everything they can to ensure work is done quickly, so disruption and house selling difficulties are only short-term.
“The COVID situation should not cause us to lose sight of essential priorities in our sector, so it is encouraging to see a real commitment to driving these new building safety measures forwards. Now local leaders have made their pledge, we all need to honour our collective responsibility to follow through and help protect the lives of residents.”