Clause 36 - Determination of certain applications by Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 23rd September 2021.

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Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 11:30 am, 23rd September 2021

May I remind the Committee to switch electronic devices to silent and to email speaking notes to our Hansard colleagues at hansardnotes@parliament.uk? We begin today’s session with clause 36.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

It is once again a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I welcome the Committee back to this final line-by-line scrutiny session before we go into recess again.

The Government are committed to ensuring that there is a stringent regulatory framework to enable the design and construction of better and high-quality homes while providing industry with the clarity and certainty that it needs. Dame Judith’s review found that unnecessary delays in the system must be minimised, and we wholeheartedly agree with that finding. The gateways and building control system have been designed to ensure appropriate consideration of building regulations compliance, including building safety, throughout design and construction.

Applicants in England are encouraged to work with the Building Safety Regulator to ensure that decisions are reached in good time or extensions are agreed, and the Building Safety Regulator will make decisions on a variety of matters relating to building control. They include deciding whether to approve or reject the following types of applications: gateway 2 building control applications, change control applications, gateway 3 applications and certain refurbishment applications. To provide industry with certainty for project and financial planning, the Building Safety Regulator will have prescribed periods in which to decide such applications.

Where further time is required—there may be occasions when that is necessary—extensions can be agreed between the regulator and the applicant. However, it is necessary to have an alternative route through which an applicant can get a decision on their application if the Building Safety Regulator has not issued a decision within the required timeframe and an extension has not been agreed, and clause 36 provides the legal basis for the Secretary of State, or a person appointed to act on their behalf, to make a decision on applications in England in such circumstances. We envisage that there will be very few applications that follow this path each year. Like applications decided by the Building Safety Regulator, there will be no set timeframe in which applicants can expect such a decision.

In Wales, failure by the building control authority to decide on an application relating to a higher-risk building will similarly allow the applicant to apply to the Welsh Ministers, or a person appointed by them, for a decision on the application. This is a means by which decisions can be expedited, and I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

This is a really important clause. My right hon. Friend was rather succinct in his comments, but he touched on the balancing of the environment with the Bill. As we talked about in our previous deliberations earlier this week, we want to ensure that we can still have the environment in place in order to continue to build, because we still need to build homes and ensure that there is an adequate process in place. The important part of the clause, which links to other clauses that we have debated so far, is about ensuring that there is an adequate process in place to ensure that there are no delays and that we have adequate building taking place in an expedient manner.

We also need to ensure that those who want to play according to the rules, as I discussed on Tuesday, know how to do that and can ultimately have their matters determined in an expedient manner. I am sure my right hon. Friend will touch on that in his remarks when he responds later, but I want to ensure that in the clause we maintain the balance between a proper determination to ensure safety for leaseholders and residents and an expedient manner to determine applications, which will be important.

I will not talk about the impact in Wales. I commented on that during our previous deliberations, but I fully support the clause, which strikes the right balance in the underlying tensions in the Bill. I look forward to hearing my right hon. Friend’s comments in due course.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I am obliged to the Opposition for what appears to be their support for this fairly uncontentious and important clause. I am also obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West for his contribution. He is right to say that we want to ensure that building can progress expeditiously and safely. That is why we have put in place sensible review points—the gateways and the hard stops that they provide for. It is also why we have included this clause in the Bill to ensure that where there are occasions—we do not envisage many—when the Building Safety Regulator has failed to issue a decision and no extension to the timeframe has been granted, there is a means by which the applicant can move to get a decision.

We have not specified a timeframe by which the Secretary of State or the person or body appointed by the Secretary of State will be obliged to make a decision because we anticipate that in those very few circumstances a decision might not have been made because of the complexity of the arrangements. That then allows the Secretary of State or the appointed body time and space to come to a conclusion.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He said that there would not be specific timeframes in the Bill, but can he assure me that there will be ongoing monitoring? The one thing that the clause seeks to achieve is an expedient process, which previous clauses have done as well. Will he touch on how monitoring of the process will be implemented to ensure the aims of the clause are enacted?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I am happy to do that. My hon. Friend pre-empts what I was going to say. In secondary legislation we will specify what we believe to be proportionate timescales in which the Building Safety Regulator will have to come to a decision on applications before them. That will place proper focus on the Building Safety Regulator and ensure that applicants get the focus and engagement that they deserve. We will ask the regulator to provide data, and the regulator will report on the number of applications that it receives and the outcome of each application, including the timeframe of each decision and whether extensions were agreed.

Over time, a body of information and evidence will be developed, which, apart from the secondary legislation statutory timeframes for adjudication that we will set, will enable the sector to see the average timeframes and outlier timeframes that the adjudications take and be able to make its decisions accordingly with respect to appeals to the Secretary of State or to the Secretary of State’s appointed appeals body.

We think that in practice the clause and its provisions will be used infrequently, but it is an important backstop, which is why we have included it. It provides, as I say, a legal basis for the Secretary of State, or a person appointed on their behalf, to make a decision on applications in England in such circumstances, and in Wales for Welsh Ministers to do similarly. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 36 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.