The Week That Was - 11 August 2023

Published on 11 August 2023

Welcome to The Week That Was, a round-up of key events in the construction sector over the last seven days.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry fire expert says second staircase requirement is "knee-jerk" reaction to Grenfell

In December 2022, the government enacted a ban on flammable cladding for buildings exceeding 18m in height, through an amendment to Building Regulations. A recent development on July 25, 2023, led by Housing Secretary Michael Gove, mandates the inclusion of two staircases in new residential buildings over 18m.

Professor José L Torero, a prominent fire engineering expert involved in the ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry, has raised concerns about these measures. He argues that these mandates, which include the prohibition of combustible materials and the stipulation for a second staircase, may miss the underlying issues highlighted by the Inquiry and Dame Judith Hackitt's recommendations. According to Torero, the central problem in the Grenfell tragedy lay in the competency of stakeholders entrusted with enforcing outcome-based regulations. This perspective diverges from the Royal Institute of British Architects' position on fundamental prescriptive requirements. These differing viewpoints set the stage for continued discussions until the release of the Phase 2 report from the Grenfell Inquiry in 2024.

To read more, please click here.

Limits of residents' recovery of cladding costs for low rise buildings

Leaseholders in low-rise blocks of flats in England are facing large bills to replace cladding and correct other fire-safety defects after being excluded from legislation that capped the amount residents have to contribute to remedial works six years after the Grenfell fire disaster.

The article notes that apartment buildings below 11m in height, deemed as lower risk by the government, are not covered by legislation aimed at protecting residents from having to pay for replacing cladding, which includes pursuing developers for compensation.  It also notes that, the rules also cap the cost of wider fire-safety work at £15,000 in London and £10,000 elsewhere.

The full article can be found here.

High Court awards £6.5 million for invalid termination of contract

The High Court has ordered MPS Housing (part of the Mears Group) to pay Home Group a £6.5 million adjudication award arising from its invalid termination of a services contract.

MPS put forward a number of arguments relating to the validity and complexity of the claim, which included that it had insufficient time to consider the extensive evidence relating to several thousands of small value work orders, and that there were a number of duplications, as well as concerns around the integrity of the data provided by Home Group, and that this was a breach of ‘natural justice’.  

These submissions were on the whole rejected by the court, when giving judgment in favour of Home Group.

To read more, please click here.
ULEZ expansion ‘bad news’ for construction industry, say trade bodies

Last week, the High Court ruled that the expansion of ULEZ into all London boroughs is lawful and will go ahead as planned on 29 August.  Vehicles that fail to meet the emission standards will face a daily charge of £12.50 when driving within the zone.  The Chief Executive of the Builders Merchants Federation, John Newcomb, has stated that the BMF is "disappointed" with the High Court's decision.  Newcomb had previously called for a targeted commercial scrappage scheme to compensate businesses for scrapping non-compliant vehicles, as well as a 12-month delay to the scheme in order to prepare for the changes.  The Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders, Brian Berry, also supported an expanded commercial scrappage scheme as "tradespeople are being disproportionately affected" by the ULEZ expansion.

For more details, please click here.

CE marking deadline not revised for construction products

On 1 August 2023, the government announced an indefinite extension to the use of the CE marking on products placed on the market in Great Britain; however, this does not apply to construction products.  The latest announcement applies to products that fall within the remit of the Department for Business & Trade, and construction products fall within the remit of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.  The current deadline for construction products is 30 June 2025, after which CE marking will no longer be recognised in Great Britain.

For further information, please click here.
Ministry of Justice approves government proposal to automatically refer small value claims to mediation

The Ministry of Justice have approved the government's proposal to make the courts more "efficient, effective, and sustainable" by automatically referring small value claims (typically £10,000 or less) to mediation. This will be facilitated by a free one-hour appointment at Small Claims Mediation Service and will first apply to Part 7 specific money claims. It hopes this will see claims resolved in a matter of weeks rather than months. As these claims account for c. 80% of the Small Claims Track, this could free up the Courts for those requiring deeper analysis or judicial intervention. However, whilst there will be no individual exceptions to this process, the parties are only required to attend the mediation appointment and any settlement remains voluntary. If settlement is not reached, they may resume the usual court process.

The Ministry of Justice has published its proposals and timelines for implementing this scheme, the procedures the parties will be expected to follow, and its intensions as to expanding the scheme to all standard Part 7 Small Claims and the County Courts.

To read more, please click here.
RICS releases information on fire safety and have updated their building safety and cladding FAQs

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has released guidance and information on fire safety in buildings. The guidance and information will provide landlords, building owners, corporates, occupiers, RICS professionals and the general public with information on fire safety in buildings, including those with external wall systems. The information for RICS professionals includes the latest industry guidance and news on fire safety, including valuing properties with cladding and professional indemnity insurance. Building owners and landlords can access information on requirements and standards related to fire safety. Finally, members of the public can understand more about the EWS1 process, find out how RICS is involved in global standards for fire safety, and access the latest government advice. RICS has also updated its FAQs on the Building Safety Act (BSA 2022) and the EWS.

To read more, please click here.

Authors for this week's edition:  Jonathan Carrington, James McKay, Chris Wilkie, and Ava Mathias.

Disclaimer: The information in this publication is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  We attempt to ensure that the content is current as at the date of publication, but we do not guarantee that it remains up to date.  You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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