Jane Embury welcomes a white paper on safety in social housing.
Sometimes it takes a disaster in which lives are lost for building or fire regulations to change.
Over the years it has come to be called ‘codifying by catastrophe’. It sometimes seems that it’s the only way in which improvements to public safety are ever made.
I suggested in an article that It perhaps started in this country with William the Conqueror.
It’s something that we’ve drawn attention to many times before. From the Bradford football club disaster to the Summerland holiday park catastrophe. From the King’s Cross railway station fire to the Smithfield meat market fire.
All, in their different way, have improved fire safety, either for the general public or the emergency services.
So, it comes as no surprise that earlier this month the government unveiled plans to strengthen the powers of the Regulator of Social Housing.
It comes in the dark shadow of the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster in which 72 people lost their lives.
The white paper aims to address the very real concerns of residents. Their complaints about safety have, often enough, not been listened to.
The white paper should pave the way for legislation to give the Regulator of Social Housing a specific duty of safety.
It will also require social landlords to appoint someone to be responsible for health and safety requirements.
The white paper also launches a consultation on requirements for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and for electrical safety.
Also important is a commitment to continue to work with the Social Sector (Building Safety) Engagement Best Practice Group and the Building Safety Regulator. This will ensure residents’ voices are heard.
Also, the government has published a new charter that sets out what social housing residents should expect.
That includes promises that they should be safe in their homes. Also, to know how their landlord is performing on repairs and responding to complaints.
On complaints, they should be dealt with promptly and fairly and residents should be treated with respect.
It says much for the current system that government should have to legislate for residents to be treated fairly and with respect.
Of course, there is likely to be a substantial delay before legislation finds its way to the Statute Book. Consultations take time, and parliamentary time is limited.
However, it marks the first time that social housing tenants will, by law, be given a voice. It also sets out a new relationship between tenants, landlords and the Regulator.
As a company involved in fire protection, we welcome each and any initiative to make buildings safer.
But we are saddened, if not surprised, that it took the Grenfell Tower disaster to bring about safety changes that should have happened anyway.