Permitted Development and Cladding Safety

MQT on 2017-07-13
Session date: 
July 13, 2017
Question By: 
Tom Copley
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Is the Mayor concerned around building control and oversight processes surrounding cladding on homes converted from office premises via permitted development?


Answer for Permitted Development and Cladding Safety

Answer for Permitted Development and Cladding Safety

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I have concerns over building control and oversight processes generally and the potential serious safety implications for a range of buildings in London.  I welcome the Government’s decision to establish an independent expert advisory panel to advise on what immediate measures can be taken to make buildings safe.  I have made representations to the panel via the Prime Minister and hope the expert panel will be able to make positive recommendations speedily about what the Government can do.


Office-to-residential permitted development (PD) rights do not cover external alterations to a building and so amendments to external cladding would require planning permission.  Moreover, building regulations approval is different from a planning permission.  The two are based on different pieces of legislation and fulfil different roles.  Schemes delivered through PD rights are still required to meet relevant building regulations.  Building regulations set out the safety requirements of buildings.  I currently have no responsibility for building regulations and there is no building control body within the GLA.  This is the responsibility of each local authority.  However, I have asked my team to investigate what can be done through the planning system to improve fire safety and anything I can do through planning, I will.


There also seems to be some very serious questions to be answered about the age and robustness of the current regulations, guidance and the independence and robustness of the competitive building control environment.  Therefore, on top of the previous representations I have made, I will be making further representations to the Government to call for a comprehensive review of the building regulations, which is fully resourced, open and transparent, to ensure they are fit for purpose.  The review should not be bound by the Red Tape Challenge or the Government’s desire for less regulation.  The Grenfell fire and the subsequent testing of cladding has clearly shown that the current safety regime is not fit for purpose.


In the immediate term, I will continue to do all I can to support the Government in making buildings across London and the rest of the country safe.  It is paramount that we ensure resources are targeted in the most efficient and strategic way to address fire safety concerns.  To that end, it is vital for the Government to issue clear, well-evidenced advice to housing providers.


Tom Copley AM:  Thank you for that answer, Mr Mayor.  According to the London Development Database (LDD), over 1,000 residential units are completed every single year as a result of PD rights.  Do you know whether all those 1,000 homes will have been checked by local authority building control departments to ensure they comply with all the fire regulations?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  No, I do not.  One of the problems with the building regulations regime is of course if the regulations themselves are not fit for purpose, even if they were inspected, that does not guarantee they would be safe.  That is one of the reasons why although that is not the premise of City Hall, that is local authorities, we are looking at what we can do in planning to address that.  As you alluded to in your question, PDs are very different in relation to the loops you have got to go through and this so-called deregulation, less red tape, does lead to the sort of problems that you are alluding to.


Tom Copley AM:  I agree with you.  Of course, as you say, PDs are not subject to the same rigours as a development that goes through the planning system.  Alison Butler, Croydon Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing Regeneration and Planning, has expressed concerns.  She said those blocks do not come under the same scrutiny as they would if they had to apply for planning permission.


I completely agree with you with regards to the building regulations and not keeping up anyway, but do you think the Government should suspend PD rights until it can assure London Councils that effective monitoring is in place?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  We have made representations to the expert panel raising some of the concerns raised to us by London Councils.  That may be the sensible thing to do, what you are suggesting.


It is worth reminding ourselves that the Government instituted a Red Tape Challenge to reduce red tape and I am afraid that for those who speak pejoratively about red tape, about health and safety and about regulations, the Grenfell Tower [fire] is the consequence of reducing health and safety requirements, reducing red tape and reducing good quality regulations.  One of the issues that you are driving at is a consequence of less red tape, PDs, less safe homes.  That is why it is crucial that the experts’ panel looks at the issue of PDs.  At the moment, the focus is aluminium composite material (ACM), but ACM is just one part of the equation of what makes a building not safe.


Tom Copley AM:  My view, Mr Mayor, is that red tape saves lives, but thank you very much for your answer.


Len Duvall AM:  Thank you, Chair.  Can I thank you, Mr Mayor, for your commitment about trying to use the planning regime in the best possible way?  You earlier said that you wanted to move faster with due diligence in terms of not waiting for public inquiries or some of the lessons learned at a later date.  We see that within the fire service almost taking early decisions now and pre-empting some of those inquiries for the safety of Londoners.


If we can turn to your London Plan, do you envisage, in the conversations that you have with GLA officers, that we would be looking to see more about maybe sprinklers and water suppression units in new designs and new buildings and could you envisage the London Plan saying something around the issues relating to cladding and designs?  Would that be what your thinking is?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The short answer is yes, but just to tell you the dilemma, new buildings by and large are safe, including tall buildings; they have sprinklers in there as a matter of course.


There are other issues we could be looking at, for example, should there be lifts that are fire-proof, should we look at the issue of cladding, because I am afraid when you look at some of the ACM used, some of the buildings that are identified as being not safe as part of Government testing.  Many of them were new builds because of the cladding they used.  Planning does not give us all the tools because some of it is building control.


What we are trying to do is see if we can be innovative and I suspect - and you mentioned this in your question because of your interest in safety - that the London Plan will probably have some pioneering stuff using the planning regime to make our buildings as safe as they possibly can be.


Len Duvall AM:  Look, we cannot tell London boroughs, planners and other professionals to do their job and nor should we, but did you think of bringing those professionals together for best practice and to talk and learn those lessons in a better way, in a better way than probably was done when we had previous tragedies?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  We are trying our best to work collegiately with all 33 boroughs just to help them.  They have been really receptive to our assistance, not simply in Grenfell Tower, embedding people in, but also giving them advice and assistance.  The real challenge is not with the new builds, it is how you retrofit the existing tower blocks.  Councils and housing associations, with limited resources, are trying to improve the quality of life of residents by refurbishing a building.  It is how you do that safely, issues around the type of cladding, how it is installed; other issues about are the doors self-closing, fire-proof; when it comes to maintaining a building, are you making sure that you are looking at access?  All these things are looked at on a daily basis by housing associations and councils and the concern is we can do what we can in relation to planning and the London Plan, but that is new build, not the existing stock.


Len Duvall AM:  All right.  Thank you.