Insight: Residential

What issues face the Building Safety Fund (BSF) and its recipients?

The government has announced an additional £3.5 billion extension to its Building Safety Fund. This provides additional support to rectify cladding on at-risk buildings over 18m tall. Many have pointed out that a key issue with the fund is that it won’t address the full range of fire safety issues in buildings. But is the funding enough to address unsafe cladding?

Based on TFT’s ongoing work supporting applications for these funds for building owners and developers, market forces pose a risk to an overall programme of re-cladding. Achieving swift and effective improvements to at-risk buildings may require additional funding and extended deadlines.

The Building Safety Fund is set up to support the replacement of unsafe cladding

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TFT’s project management specialists help mitigate our clients’ exposure to supply chain risks. However, fundamental supply issues will nonetheless lead to increased costs and timings for all involved with re-cladding buildings. In a worst case scenario this could lead some to compromise on the quality of the remedial work.

TFT currently provides project management and quantity surveying services covering 35 high rise buildings across the UK, supporting applications for the BSF grant fund. Our role is to manage a programme that fulfils the safety needs of each building, while also managing costs and timelines. The capital expenditure for TFT’s programme portfolio is over £100m.

Whilst the additional funding is welcome for the extensive scope of works required to make these buildings safe, the below issues give cause for concern:

Supply chain capacity: fire engineering services and cladding material

These works require specialist services, engineering advice and construction works. We have found increasing demand for key services over the last six months, including specialist fire engineering advice, façade engineering advice as well as construction services. This creates a bottle-neck in the market.

The result is that suppliers are challenged to deliver fully and to preferred deadlines. Pricing for these services is rising as one would expect in a market-place where demand outpaces supply, well beyond those which have been benchmarked over a year ago.

Material suppliers are also squeezed. There is limited stock of suitable insulation materials which have similar thermal properties, at the same physical thickness and which have a suitable fire rating. The limited availability of these materials is limited and there may be a lag while the market adjusts and increases the supply of these specialist materials. Otherwise, there are further issues around how buildings may be re-designed and detailed with thicker external walls.

The scale of the problem is becoming more fully understood as leaseholders and freeholders undertake investigations of their high risk buildings and understand the remediation solutions. There is a real risk of these costs spinning out of control and this additional funding again being insufficient.

How TFT manages demand

Our teams work together to manage market demand and avoid creating bottle-necks in resource or specialist service supply chains.

A collaborative online programme management approach allows us to share data between projects and balance the supply chain and demand, ensuring that no contractor or supplier is overburdened. We do this using online project management tools and data collection to ensure our analysis can be undertaken in real time and provide clients and the project teams access to all this information, as required.

While these measures help to manage TFT’s impact on suppliers, the wider market effects are still significant and will put pressure on all parties in the future.

Costs and priorities of fund allocation

As well as managing these escalating costs, building owners must be able to support a full and proper application for grant funding or risk rejection. Thousands of applications have already been turned down.

Whilst pre-tender support is available, there may be delays in commencing projects whilst this support is applied for and received. If building owners and leaseholders have forward funded these initial design and investigation costs, it’s not clear that they would get this money back in the event of a rejected application. There are significant costs just to gather the information to secure funding and meet the funding deadlines. This will challenge all but very large developers or funds to support the works.

In addition, it’s not clear how the fund prioritises funding and how the highest risk buildings are categorised. The current terms suggest a first-come-first-served system. More clarity on the priorities assigned to tall blocks, or those with limited fire protections, would be useful for applicants and for wider public information.

Using data and building records to avoid a repeat scenario

Once the funds are secured and supply chain issues navigated, the last thing building owners and residents will want is to repeat the process years down the line. Quality control on how the works will be monitored and certified as complete will be of the utmost importance.

In addition, we must ensure accurate record-keeping on the building and the works undertaken. This includes updating existing building operations and maintenance manuals. It may sound obvious, but in our investigations data on wall composition was inconsistent and leads to complications identifying risks and taking the right steps to fix these issues.

What should be done?

The process of removing and replacing cladding on at-risk buildings across the UK is a huge exercise for procurement and project management.

As project manager, TFT can mitigate clients’ exposure to market risks and the demands on specific supply chains. However, the government will need to consider additional costs and lengthened deadlines for all parties involved with re-cladding buildings, if there’s a risk that not doing so will lead to sub-standard work done this time, requiring additional improvements in the near future.

Combustible material and residential balconies: new Government advice

The Government has urged building owners to remove combustible materials from residential balconies. This follows a number of significant balcony fires in London in the past 12 months and is an acknowledgement that balconies constructed from combustible materials can promote rapid external fire spread.

Timber has become increasingly popular in recent years to provide balcony decking, solar shading and privacy screens. Amendments to the Building Regulations in December 2018 specifically prevent the use of combustible material such as timber for balconies on certain residential buildings over 18m in height, but the new Regulations do not apply retrospectively. However, the latest Government advice relates to existing buildings, particularly residential properties with multiple dwellings and includes low-rise buildings under the 18m threshold.

Building owners need to establish what materials have been used, assess the risks, keep residents informed and advise the fire brigade if urgent concerns exist.

The Government Advice Note states that: “the clearest way to prevent the risk of external fire spread is to remove and replace any combustible material with one that is non-combustible (classified as A1 or A2-s1, d0)”.

TFT has experience of coordinating external wall/fire safety investigations and overseeing remedial works.

Please contact Simon Young MRICS if you have any concerns.

The business case for energy efficient buildings

Mat Lown’s recent article in the Journal of Building Survey, Appraisal & Valuation TFT explores the policies, regulations and market drivers which influence the energy performance of the built environment.

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