Saturday, 16 February 2013 09:58

Details of Local Building Acts Changes

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The Department for Communities and Local Government issued CLG Circular 02/2012 on 19 December 2012.

The main objective of the Circular is to draw attention to the Building Regulations etc (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. 2012/3119) ("the Amendment Regulations") and the Building (Repeal of Provisions of Local Acts) Regulations 2012 (S.I 2012/3124) ("Local Acts Regulations"), both of which were made on 17 December 2012.

The provisions of the former set of regulations take effect on various dates but the latter took effect from 9 January 2013.

The Regulations make amendments to several pieces of legislation, principally the Building Act 1984, the Building Regulations 2010, the Building (Approved Inspectors etc) Regulations 2010 and the Building (Local Authority Charges) Regulations 2010 and associated guidance documents. However, of primary importance to the fire safety arena is the repeal of a number of local laws and enactments that required additional measures to be taken over ad above those required by the Building Regulations. The most prominent of these is the London Building Acts (Amendment) Act 1939 but also includes the following:

  • County of Merseyside Act 1980;
  • West Midlands County Council Act 1980;
  • Cheshire County Council Act 1980;
  • Isle of Wight Act 1980;
  • South Yorkshire Act 1980;
  • Greater Manchester Act 1981;
  • County of Kent Act 1981;
  • Derbyshire Act 1981;
  • Humberside Act 1982;
  • County of Avon Act 1982;
  • Cumbria Act 1982;
  • Hampshire Act 1983;
  • Staffordshire Act 1983;
  • County of Lancashire Act 1984;
  • Surrey Act 1985;
  • Bournemouth Borough Council Act 1985;
  • Leicestershire Act 1985; 
  • Hereford City Council Act 1985;
  • Worcester City Council Act 1985;
  • Poole Borough Council Act 1986;
  • Berkshire Act 1986;
  • County of Cleveland Act 1987.

The effect of the regulations is to harmonise the provision of fire safety measures across England and, subject to the circular being adopted, in Wales. 

At first glance, it may appear that requirements have been relaxed because prescriptive laws requiring additional measures in certain locations have been repealed; however, if anything, it suggests that the designers of buildings throughout the country will be required to ensure that they do not build down to a minimum prescribed set of criteria but, rather, they should more actively seek information as to the building's use and duration of intended occupancies to ensure that a reasonably safe, appropriate environment is provided. Due consideration should be also given to the safety of fire crews and for the management's agents who may be required to assist less-abled persons to evacuate the building when employing modern methods of construction or those incorporating "reduced redundancy" components.

The repeal of the local legislation lays down a challenge to designers, those commissioning the construction of buildings and to the eventual client companies. To design to a minimum safety provision leaves a minimal margin of safety for employees and visitors who cannot achieve "normal' walking speeds or who have mobility and/or sensory disabilities. Management measures are usually cited as compensating for such issues (e.g. Personal Evacuation Plans); however, many schemes are written but few are practised and even fewer have robust arrangements that are confirmed on a day-to-day basis. In these circumstances, it is arguable whether the employer would be able to claim that the arrangements were adequate in a Court of Law.

In effect, the security of a "design safety net" has been removed: risk design and management is now a reality for all workplaces and multi-occupancy housing in England and Wales. Everyone involved in the design and occupation of buildings should be aware of the change and, with one eye on the possible legal consequences, ask themselves, "What is required?" rather than "How little can I provide?".

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