The Welsh Building Safety Programme has had some welcomed updates towards the latter end of last year. Leaseholders living in high-rise flats in Wales will be pleased to hear that the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, has provided an update in regards to the action they are taking in collaboration with Plaid Cymru to address building safety in Wales.
The key update is that there is now a route to address fire safety issues in all residential buildings of 11 metres and over in Wales.
This is not limited to cladded buildings. Wales is the only country in the UK to make this commitment. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors published its cladding valuation guideline to incorporate Wales in December 2023. This is a significant step towards ensuring consistency and openness in the valuation process for flats in cladding-affected buildings.
The improved guidance will help valuers and lenders make decisions, which will minimise friction and delays for home buyers, sellers, and leaseholders looking to sell or remortgage their properties.
The guidance will take into account the Welsh Government’s position, clarifying to valuers and lenders that there are financial channels to repair fire safety hazards across all dwellings in Wales of 11 metres or more in height, at no extra expense to leaseholders. This refers to if restorations are the duty of social sector suppliers, developers, or orphan buildings where no responsible developer has the means to perform maintenance.
The Welsh Government deal has already been signed by ten large UK developers.
These developers continue to work extensively with the Welsh Government in both quarterly contract monitoring sessions and informally to resolve particular problems raised by leaseholders and tenants.
There are now 34 structures undergoing restoration, including Aurora, Davids Wharf, Prospect Place, and Century Wharf. Another 34 buildings are expected to begin construction in 2024. Officials have additionally been collaborating with other developers who were not among the initial ones to agree to the contract.
In July, the Welsh Government announced the introduction of the Orphan Building initiative, which provides a pathway for addressing the range of fire safety remediation requirements in orphan buildings to date. The preparation of work schedules for these buildings are underway, and works have already begun in a number of them, including Kings Court in Newport.
An Expression of Interest to the Welsh Building Safety Fund is the only way to access Welsh Government assistance. All Responsible Persons that are yet to submit an Expression of Interest are strongly encouraged to do so. An Expression of Interest can be sent via the Welsh Government’s website.
The social sector strategy concludes the framework by ensuring that all structures of 11 metres or more are as fire safe as possible. A further £39 million in funding has been authorised following an effective round of requests for funding to the current Building Safety Fund. This fund will assist 131 structures in total, with construction already underway.
The complexity and cost of the legal process for leaseholders have been noted by the Welsh Government, and they have urged how important it is that leaseholders seek the correct guidance. As a result, leaseholders in Wales who are concerned about the fire safety of their building or the work being done to repair it will be entitled to request independent legal advice through the leaseholder advisory service.
Leaseholders who obtain this legal assistance through the leasehold advisory service, will refer leaseholders to free specialist legal advice if necessary. This new service will aid in the avoidance of costly arguments and delays. Officials are presently in the process of recruiting a specialist independent legal counsel, and to share more information about the launch of this service soon.
The first set of regulations, which specify what defines a higher risk building, has been agreed upon. Buildings subjected to these laws will be bound to additional restrictions on who may oversee and authorise work. Throughout the design, building, and refurbishing phases, they will also be subject to a new, intensified regime.
The oversight of new high-risk buildings to local authority building control will be limited beginning in April 2024, implementing a new class system for licenced building inspectors. This is done to ensure that only people with the required skills, expertise, and knowledge serve as decision-makers.
Inspectors and approvers will be required to ensure compliance with new standards, regulations, and laws as a requirement of the registration criteria. The Welsh Government have put an independent third party scheme in place to ensure inspectors of buildings are competent and qualified. The registration procedure will begin in January 2024, but people who need to register are encouraged to get ahead of the game by having their competence validated and then applying to apply as soon as possible.
We hope this update from the Welsh Government has proved useful and we will continue to update further as the Welsh Building Safety Programme comes into play. If you require any further information or assistance on Fire Safety issues in your building, please contact a member of our team to help you.