Rishi Sunak has announced the Government’s £5bn commitment to remove unsafe cladding from the highest risk buildings, which he says will be partly funded by the Residential Property Developers Tax. This will be levied on developers with profits over £25m at a rate of four per cent. The news follows the Commons Housing Select Committee’s plea to establish a new, larger fund “that addresses the true scale of fire safety issues”.
The Government’s latest commitment is by no means the end of the post-Grenfell overhaul. The Building Safety Bill, published in July 2021, aims to transform the existing fire safety system and increase accountability, transparency, and oversight of fire safety throughout the life of a building. Under the proposals, a new national regulator will be established to maximise fire safety during a building’s design, construction, completion and eventual occupation.
The Government also plans to change the law to give homeowners 15 years – rather than six – to take action against rogue developers. In addition, new British Standards Institution guidance is expected by the end of the year regarding personal emergency evacuation plans for disabled, aged, and vulnerable residents.
However, there are also new intelligent ways to cut risks in social housing that can be implemented now to support the aims of the bill and Fire Safety Act 2021 and ultimately protect tenants, building managers, and landlords.
By introducing connected technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), social landlords can relieve some of the burden of fire prevention and make life safer for their tenants.
Post-Grenfell, more than 400 ‘waking watches’ were established around the country to monitor buildings, costing Londoners alone £145 million per year. This sum is equivalent to more than a third of the London Fire Brigade’s annual budget, essential for keeping the capital safe from life-threatening disasters such as fires, terrorist threats and flooding.
Relying on humans for fire prevention should not be the only intervention and is not financially sustainable in the long-term. With remote monitoring and cloud connectivity of smoke detectors, social landlords can streamline fire prevention, and create an opportunity for centralised, off-site monitoring.
Nick Rutter, Chief Product Officer of fire safety technology experts FireAngel, says, “Connected technology can be installed within the parameters of an existing budget, and support waking watches in the short-term by sending instant notifications when an alarm is activated, any devices are removed from the base, or a tenant needs assistance.
Looking to the future, a combination of IoT, robust fire detection and alert systems and evacuation plans unique to each resident’s needs could replace the need for on-site waking watches completely.
Connection to the IoT also enables landlords to monitor essential features such as the building’s age and condition and the wear and tear of electrical appliances. This combination of IoT and AI technologies provides a 24/7 overview of buildings and their changing fire risks, collecting data that can be analysed for trends and patterns, in turn, supporting the transparency aims of the Building Safety Bill.
As tenants at risk await further legislative updates, now is the time for the fire industry and social landlords to keep pace with the future of fire safety and adopt new ways of protecting resident wellbeing.”