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In our latest Building Safety Blogs we hear from Neil Diddams, Director Property & Assets at West Kent Housing Association on how his organisation is prioritising building safety and focusing on the voices of their residents – 

Following on from Grenfell, building safety must be the number one focus for anyone in the sector. At West Kent we’re fully embracing the changes brought forward by the Building Safety Act. Whilst the requirement for a Building Safety Manager post was dropped in favor of accountable persons, at West Kent we have decided to keep this role within the organisation to provide greater resilience and accountability.

Our Building Safety Manager’s primary focus is data. The golden thread of information is key to ensuring that building safety is considered at all stages as the gateways are met. This does not mean that Digital Trins are required for all High Risk Buildings (HRBs) – it does however mean that accurate records and a full understanding of the construction of properties are;
• Accurate,
• Available,
• Up to date,
• Revised and changed as works take place.

At West Kent we’re pulling all this information together for every building we own. Whilst we are focusing on High Risk Buildings (HRBs) first we will continue this for all buildings that have some form of risk. Safety of our staff and residents is our top priority and correct data helps us meet this.

Assessing and managing the risks.

This has the greatest impact on us as a client. All HRBs need to be registered with the Building Safety Regulator, which will ensure that building safety risks have been assessed and are managed. This also includes ensuring our residents are engaged in building safety decisions. This was a critical factor missing in the Grenfell disaster.

It also places some responsibility onto residents and Leaseholders in HRBs to comply if contravention notices are given by the accountable person. This is welcomed by us as this can be a challenging situation to resolve.

The first action for housing associations like West Kent, is to really understand the buildings that they own and start to develop the building safety cases. A significant part of this is working with the residents, listening to their concerns, and really hearing them to work together making sure safety is the number one priority.

This is where the South East Consortium guide into building safety has really helped us at West Kent. The aim of the guidance was to provide support in procuring building safety works ensuring the correct outcome. We have used the Four C’s principle as outlined in the document to embed a culture where Safety is led from the Board and Executive team through the Organisation. We are using the eight pillars of safe procurement, not only for new works but to review all contracts ensuring required competencies are being met in relation to not only fire works but any works that could in any way compromise fire safety.

Whilst the guide is written to support procurement professionals, it is easy to understand and will support all organisations in making sure safety is number one priority for all works undertaken.

Probably the most newsworthy section in the act is around cladding and protection for leaseholders. We are in a fortunate position to only have one building with flammable cladding that we are the leaseholder for. This is currently being remediated in a partnership with Kent County Council and the developer. The project has been a fantastic success mainly due to a collaborative approach by all parties and strong resident liaison at all stages.

Neil Diddams

Director Property & Asset, West Kent Housing Association

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