Clause 3 - The regulator: objectives and regulatory principles

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 16th September 2021.

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Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 12:00 pm, 16th September 2021

I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 3, page 2, line 14, at end insert—

“(c) mitigating building safety risks due to climate change, including—

(i) flood risk

(ii) coastal erosion, and

(iii) overheating of buildings.”

This amendment would mandate the building safety regulator to mitigate for risks to building safety due to climate change.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Although there is much to welcome in elements of clause 3, there are two points on which I believe it important to expand what is currently set out. Amendment 11 seeks to expand the objective of the regulator to include another major threat to the safety of people in buildings, beyond fire and the threat of climate change. In 2019, the Climate Change Committee published a report on housing in which it stated:

UK homes are not fit for the future.”

It found that

“efforts to adapt the housing stock for higher temperatures, flooding and water scarcity are falling far behind the increase in risk” from the challenging climate emergency. We will face serious consequences if we do not act soon. Some of the biggest risks are the lack of protection from increasing floods and coastal erosion, and the overheating of buildings. There is also the danger of under-insulating buildings. Projections indicate that maximum summer temperatures could rise by 9° by the end of the century. Some 20% of homes overheat in the current climate. Modern high-rise flats are disproportionately at risk of overheating due to lack of protection from the sun and lack of ventilation in many cases. As a result, deaths caused by overheating could triple over the next 30 years if we do not reduce the risk. This is about people and about building safety beyond fire safety. At the other end of the spectrum, cold deaths are also predicted to remain high, but we could reduce them by better insulating homes.

It is not just high-rise flats that are at risk from the effects of climate change; 1.8 million people now live in areas at risk of flooding. That could double by 2080, but we are simply not seeing the resilience measures that we need to be built into the framework. In mentioning flooding, I am not talking about eighth-floor flats, yet there is a clearly a huge risk. Many constituencies and constituents regularly face the threat of flooding. This summer has seen huge flooding that has killed hundreds of people across western Europe. This is another example of how we must look beyond the narrow definition of the present risk and of building safety.

Last year, the chair of the Climate Change Committee’s Adaptation Committee, Baroness Brown, wrote to Dame Judith Hackitt as chair of the board overseeing the establishment of the Building Safety Regulator. In the letter, she stated:

“The current building safety works programme must be broadened beyond its current focus on fire safety to include the risk of addressing climate change.”

We are in a climate emergency. Amendment 11 would put that very commitment on the face of the regulator’s objectives. I urge the Minister to consider the amendment.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

Thank you, Mr Dowd, and I apologise for my eagerness earlier; I take all opportunities to talk about the climate change emergency.

The Minister was clear in his opening remarks that the Building Safety Regulator is crucial to the success of the Bill and that the Government have consulted widely and listened to many experts in drafting the Bill we are considering today. In those discussions, he spoke to Dame Judith Hackitt and other respected building mega-brains. Given that the people who were able to inform us about the regulator’s function have not suggested that there should be a clause that refers specifically to climate change and talks about flood risk, coastal erosion and the overheating of buildings, I am confident that we do not need one, not only because we know that they are thinking deeply about how to make the Bill a complete success, but because the climate emergency is on everybody’s lips and mind, and every Government Department wants to tackle it.

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East 12:15 pm, 16th September 2021

Does my hon. Friend agree that the legislation does not need to refer to climate change, as the Government, across many pieces of legislation—both those in force and looking to the future—will consider the climate change issues that face the UK and the rest of the world?

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

My hon. Friend is right. We will address the climate emergency in many forms. I think the regulator will already be working on it, and I will come to that in a second.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

If the regulator and the Bill’s provisions genuinely address the climate emergency, why not add it to the objectives rather than making it an assumption?

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. I am somebody who does not think that we should add words for the sake of it, if the regulator is already doing the work. The explanatory notes describe the regulator’s core functions, stating that it will implement

“the new, more stringent regulatory regime for higher-risk buildings. This means being the building control authority in England in respect of building work on higher-risk buildings and overseeing and enforcing the new regime in occupation for higher-risk buildings. The Building Safety Regulator will work closely with, and take advice from, other regulators and relevant experts in making key decisions throughout the lifecycle of a building.”

We know from our constituencies that the Environment Agency, our local authorities and our parish councils are committing to looking very carefully at such issues—particularly, in my patch, those related to flooding. That work, and the work that the Government are already doing to combat flooding, will flow through. I am confident that the Bill as drafted achieves that.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Lady referred to local authorities and other stakeholders giving due care and attention to flooding. In my constituency, given that new developments are still being built on flood plains, I do not think that is the case. I would again argue that, rather than making it an assumption that the regulator addresses the climate emergency, it should be added to the Bill.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

Forgive me—I hear the point again, in a new form, but I still do not think that that is necessary. We have to rely on the expertise of the regulator and everybody who will be involved. We are so focused on building safety risk at the moment, and rightly so, given everything that has happened. I feel that the work is there.

I had my own mini-experience of coastal erosion growing up. It was not in Stroud, which is landlocked, save for the River Severn. I grew up in Yorkshire and went from Filey to Scarborough to school on a school bus. As we were going along, a hotel called Holbeck Hall fell very steadily into the sea. Many Members may know about it. It went on for many months. It was completely fascinating to school children, but even those many decades ago it was known about, thought through and seriously considered. Everybody was focused on it. Given the work that has been done in the Bill, I do not believe that, were a building in that state of peril, the regulator would not pick up on it and be able to help.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

The hon. Lady feels confident that the regulator’s powers cover high-risk buildings and the risks to buildings from flooding, overheating and the other aspects of climate change that my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale covered, but the Bill as drafted defines a higher-risk building in clauses 58 to 62 and onwards as being residential buildings over 18 metres in height. That will exclude many buildings built on flood plains, and many flats, such as those in my constituency that get dangerously overheated—

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

Order. Ms Cadbury, please sit down. I exhort Members to make interventions short and sharp. People have the opportunity to speak to the substantive issue if they wish. Please keep it short and sharp and to the point. I do apologise for being direct.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

There will be many discussions over the course of the Committee about the definitions, but ultimately we believe in the regulator, in the work that is being done, and in people such as Dame Judith Hackitt and Baroness Brown, who have been mentioned. Those climate change considerations have already been factored in.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

We need culture change, so why not put it in the Bill to direct the culture of the building industry, which for a long, long time has been wrong in placing profit over safety? Why not put that change in the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale has asked for?

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

As I have already pointed out, I do not feel it is necessary to add that given the scope of the Bill, the work of the regulator and the work that has been done to get to this stage. We need to be really confident in the regulator so that it is not hamstrung and can use the expertise of local authorities, the Environment Agency and all the other bodies with which it is directed to work, to make sure that the building safety work is done. I implore the Committee to agree that there is absolutely no need for the amendment.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

In the light of your comments, Mr Dowd, I shall try to keep mine short and sweet.

I do not disagree with a lot of what the hon. Member for Weaver Vale said. My concern, as a constituency Member who had real flooding issues last year, is that planning is a real patchwork. That is one thing that we perhaps need to go further on. The hon. Gentleman talked about house building, and he will know as well as me that water companies, for example, are not statutory consultees on planning issues. I would like that to change, because it is ridiculous that water companies are just asked to join an estate up to the network, having played no part whatsoever in planning. That is an example of something that needs to change.

On flooding specifically, we go down a plethora of different avenues. Flood Re is meant to cover buildings at risk, and some house building standards are being amended right now. I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the climate change issue; we know that temperatures are going up and that we all have a responsibility to tackle that. The environment that we are dealing with at the moment is complex and will require us to bring many strings together. Although I do not disagree with his intentions, my concern is about the mechanism for ensuring that that happens. I do not think that relying on the BSR should be our only avenue; we need a mechanism to ensure that this happens.

I have seen the impacts of flooding on my constituents, particularly in deprived urban areas, which are quite often overlooked. For the best part of 18 months, I have been making the case that there needs to be more of a realisation that it is not just nice shire areas that get flooding, but inner-city areas, too.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

In my own constituency, the Northwich area has been subject to flooding for the last two years. Undoubtedly, that is partially an impact of the climate emergency. In future, a high-rise buildings regulator could, through a planning gateway process, future-proof that and other environments.

Last week, I had the displeasure of visiting the Strand in Liverpool, near the waterfront. Work there was signed off by building control under a permitted development, and some secondary legislation has already been passed for that. The regulation for such buildings is minimal, to say the least. It is so important that this provision is added to the remit to future-proof and to respond to the climate emergency, including with the practical examples that the hon. Gentleman gave. Beyond this debate, I would like to sit with Ministers and have a conversation about the wording around this, because it is very important.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

Can I just be clear? People can speak for as much as they want with a substantive issue. Interventions should be pretty short, sharp and to the point.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

The hon. Member for Weaver Vale makes an interesting point, but I come back to my point about the environment we are dealing with from a legislative point of view. As an esteemed former member of Manchester City Council, he is much more experienced than me, and he understands the issues. We are crossing into the boundaries of planning reform as well. I do not disagree that that needs to be looked at in this space. However, while I do not disagree with and can subscribe to the amendment’s intentions, broadly speaking, I am concerned that doing it like will mean missing other opportunities for a much more comprehensive reform of this space to ensure that the issues that both the hon. Gentleman and I have experienced in our communities can be resolved.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Given the rumours that the Government’s proposals for planning reforms have been dropped, does the hon. Gentleman agree with the content of the amendment? If he does not want to see it in the Bill, where does he imagine he would be able to put it over the course of the legislative agenda?

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

The hon. Member is trying to tempt me into speculation on matters I have no control over, unfortunately. I could not possibly say, purely because I do not wish to speculate. To round up, I do not disagree with the hon. Member for Weaver Vale’s sentiment, but there is a better way that we can do it, outside the amendment.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Scott Mann.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.