Building Safety Act implementation – Wales will be different to England

England and Wales

In England, a new higher-risk buildings approval regime came into force on 1 October, but in Wales the equivalent regime has not yet been issued and is expected to contain some key differences.

The regime that came into force in October is the regulatory framework for approval of higher-risk buildings in England. Details of that regime are in our previous Law-Now article here.

In Wales the picture is different. The Welsh Government (WG) has not yet issued its regulations for approval of higher-risk buildings and has said they are likely to be laid in the Senedd this Autumn. On the current timetable, the new regulations won’t come into force in Wales until 2024 or 2025.

As well as a different timetable, the regime in Wales will use a different definition of higher-risk buildings during design and construction. In Wales, buildings over 18 metres or 7 storeys tall with just 1 residential unit will qualify as higher-risk buildings - in England, they must have at least 2 residential units. This wider scope in Wales was confirmed by the WG in a consultation published in September, insisting that 1 person in a single unit warrants the full protection of the new safety regime.

Another expected divergence is that Wales will have a different building safety regulator. In England, the Health and Safety Executive is the building safety regulator, with responsibility for overseeing compliance with and enforcing the new regulatory regime. In Wales, the WG is expected to rely on Local Authorities to fulfil those functions.

These differences, and the different pace of implementation, has led to unease in some quarters. In August the Auditor General for Wales published a report that concluded resourcing issues make it unlikely the new building safety regime will be successfully implemented by Local Authorities. It highlighted that uncertainty around how building control professionals would be trained and registered to deliver the new regime is causing concern in Local Authorities and fire and rescue services.      

Whereas there are many more similarities than differences between the regimes in England and Wales, any divergences will be unwelcome to some. However, according to the WG’s figures, there are only 171 higher-risk buildings in Wales, with just 5 new higher-risk buildings expected to be built in Wales each year. Compare this to England where the number of higher-risk buildings is thought to be in excess of 11,000, and it’s not hard to see why the WG regards a different system as being appropriate for Wales.

The bottom line is that the Building Safety Act and related legislation will be implemented differently in Wales compared to England, and an understanding of those differences will be essential for anyone working in this area.