Hamish Paterson: New cladding legislation is positive progress for fire safety

Hamish Paterson: New cladding legislation is positive progress for fire safety

Hamish Paterson

Thomas & Adamson partner Hamish Paterson provides his take on new legislation giving Scottish Ministers powers to assess and remediate buildings which have unsafe cladding.

In mid-May, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to pass new legislation that will speed up the removal of potentially flammable cladding materials from residential properties. While remediation work has already started on some of the 105 buildings impacted by the issue in Scotland, the new addition to the law is an important step in ensuring that high-rise buildings across the country are no longer at risk.

The new Housing Cladding Remediation Bill gives ministers the power to assess and carry out work to replace any dangerous cladding, without needing permission from building owners. The new policy is a catalyst for change, acting as the first stepping stone towards much-needed improvements across housing, hotels, and student accommodation blocks which consist of four storeys and are above 11 metres, in line with national standards.

Single Building Assessments (SBAs), which will set out the scope of remediation work required, are expected to be defined later this year. Until we fully understand what these entail, there is only so much that can be done. But preparations can still be made to ensure work can get underway, preventing any further hold-ups and avoiding the potential bottlenecks caused by dozens of projects kicking off at once.

The first step is to complete a full assessment of existing stock to determine which properties may be at risk – this will depend on the year they were built, if they are used for a residential purpose, and whether their height meets the four storey and 11 metre threshold. Check the original plans, archive drawings, and building data – some of which may not be easily accessible or may no longer be accurate – undertake physical site visits, and start communicating with the local authority’s building control team.

Where possible, it is also a good idea to start speaking to your supply chain in anticipation of the work required. There is likely to be a spike in the demand for skilled labour and alternative materials to replace combustible cladding panels, but taking a collaborative approach now could help to set the groundwork and secure labour resource for what will be required in the not-too-distant future.

Many UK-wide housebuilders are one step ahead, with different rules in England and Wales already in place. Similar to the intended SBA, PAS 9980 provides a methodology for assessing the fire risk of external wall and cladding construction, which can then be used to inform decisions about any remediation work required. Indeed, we have already seen some hotel and student accommodation owners in the private sector beginning remediation works in Scotland based on the principles applied south of the border.

There are certainly lessons to be learned from what has happened in England and Wales, but given the differences with Scottish building control standards and the commitments outlined in the Construction Accord, there will also be important differences. So, while those already undertaking assessments in the rest of the UK may have insight on some of the unique factors and technical complexities, there will likely be nuance specific to Scotland to consider.

Cladding has been front of mind for the construction sector since the tragic events at Grenfell in 2017 and this legislation will inevitably help more of Scotland’s building stock to meet the essential improved safety standards. With confirmation of the final SBA guidelines set to follow this new legislation, developers could get ahead of the game by preparing for projects now, saving themselves potential delays further down the line.

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