The government has agreed that its new building safety regulator will carry out an assessment of how disabled people can safely evacuate from high-rise buildings.
The proposal was included in the government’s new building safety bill as it finished its progress through parliament this week.
Disabled people have previously expressed their horror at the government’s refusal to include measures in the bill to ensure that disabled people living in high-rise buildings have the right to a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP).
Fire minister Lord [Stephen] Greenhalgh had told fellow peers earlier this month that the government had to question how much it was “reasonable to spend” on ensuring that disabled people have a PEEP as ministers “seek to protect residents and taxpayers from excessive costs”.
He had been speaking nearly five years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 72 people lost their lives, including 15 of its 37 disabled residents.
The ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry has already recommended that owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings should be legally required to prepare PEEPs for all residents who may find it difficult to “self-evacuate”.
But the government has refused to include such a proposal in its bill.
Now ministers have agreed instead that their new building safety regulator, which is being introduced through the bill, will be asked to assess the evacuation issue within three years of its launch.
The measure was first proposed as an amendment to the bill by the Liberal Democrat Lord [Andrew] Stunell, a former local government minister in the 2010 coalition government.
The regulator will also be asked to assess fire safety systems, and the safety of stairways and ramps, and of electrical equipment.
Lord Stunell told fellow peers last month: “Here is an opportunity, with a clean slate and a new building safety regulator, to set out clearly in this bill the four topics that need the most urgent attention.
“If they come back and say that I am hopelessly exaggerating the concerns and problems so it is not necessary to regulate, let us hear it.
“However, if it is necessary to regulate, let us hear that as well.”
The government initially opposed his amendment, but later presented a new version in the Commons, with its proposals giving the regulator three years to carry out the assessments, rather than the two initially proposed by Lord Stunell.
That amendment was then backed by peers this week as the Lords approved the government’s final amendments to the bill.
Lord Greenhalgh told the Lords this week that the government was “happy to confirm that we fully accept the principle of this amendment, and the building safety regulator will be happy to take forward these safety reviews”.
Lord Stunell said it would be “a major step forward if we get these issues of fire suppression, stairways and ramps, electrical equipment and safety, and provision for people with disabilities properly examined and costed, with the regulations coming in front of the [Lords] and in front of the secretary of state.
“Even if it takes three years, it will be a significant step forward, and I am very pleased indeed to see that it is included in this bill.”
Picture: Close-up of Grenfell Tower with banners in June 2018 (c) by Carcharoth is licensed under Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
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