Following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017, a review of Building Regulations & Fire Safety (separate from The Grenfell Tower Inquiry) is underway and led by Dame Judith Hackitt. Her interim report stresses the need for “a new intelligent system of regulation and enforcement for high-rise and complex buildings which will encourage everyone to do the right thing and will hold to account those who try to cut corners.”
The interim report goes on to say: “Everyone’s focus must be on doing the right things because it is their responsibility as part of a system which provides buildings that are safe and sustainable for those who will live in and use them for many decades.”
Although we can expect regulations to change (“the current regulatory system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings is not fit for purpose”), everyone involved throughout project lifecycles – design, specification, construction, use, management and refurbishment – will need to be accountable for decisions and actions. The interim report identifies the following “direction of travel” and the full report is likely therefore to address the following key issues:
Regulation and guidance
- The rules for ensuring high-rise and other complex buildings are built safe and remain safe should be more risk-based and proportionate. Those responsible for high-risk and complex buildings should be held to account to a higher degree.
- The sector to specify solutions which meet the government’s functional standards.
- Regulations and guidance must be simplified and unambiguous.
Roles and responsibilities
- Primary responsibility for ensuring that buildings are fit for purpose must rest with identified senior individuals who commission, design and build the project.
- Roles and responsibilities across the whole life cycle of a building must be clearer.
- There is a need to raise levels of competence and establish formal accreditation of those engaged in the fire prevention aspects of the design, construction, inspection and maintenance of high-rise residential and complex buildings.
Process, compliance and enforcement
- There needs to be a golden thread for high rise residential and complex buildings so that the original design intent, and any subsequent changes or refurbishment, are recorded and properly reviewed, along with regular reviews of overall building integrity.
- There is a need for stronger and more effective enforcement activity, backed up with sufficiently powerful sanctions for the few who do not follow the rules.
Residents’ voice and raising concerns
- Residents need to be reassured that an effective system is in place to maintain safety in their homes.
- There must be a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ concerns to be addressed.
Quality assurance and products
- Products must be properly tested and certified and there is a need to ensure oversight of the quality of installation work.
- Marketing of products must be clear and easy to interpret.
Calling for action across the industry and government to ensure a change in culture, it is proposed that a summit of industry leaders and experts will be held early in 2018 to discuss how to take the work forward.
We welcome the Dame Judith Hackitt’s Interim Report. It is far beyond time that regulatory regimes pertaining to buildings and their safety were reviewed. Amidst this review, we hope that there is a focus on improving overall building quality which follows a “safety first” approach. First and foremost, it is imperative that those living in and using high rise buildings now are safely preserved from inherent defects in buildings and are assured that this is the case. Thereafter, we must ensure that future occupiers of buildings can be equally confident.
It is noteworthy that this Interim Report comes at a time when general standards in the construction industry are again found to be woeful. The National Housebuilders Federation recently suggested 98% of those who had bought new homes reported defects to their builder within a few months of moving in, with 41% reporting more than 10 problems.
We further hope that those who would do away with Building Regulations, as previously called for by the Conservative party’s Quality of Life Group (who proposed in 2009 to abolish Building Regulations because they were considered to be “very prescriptive standards, which tell you how to do things”), realise the importance of prescriptive standards which help to save lives in the short and longer terms. Further, the inspection and enforcement aspects of the regulatory regime simply must be better resourced – and this should not mean developers and product suppliers self-certifying their own schemes.
The Interim Report also thankfully stresses the need for individuals to take responsibility for their part in buildings’ procurement and management. Our built environment has been very significantly changed over the last few decades and will do so again over the short, medium and long terms. Taking responsibility for the quality of this as Dame Judith requires may come at a cost. But this will always be less than that cost we saw being paid in June at Grenfell Tower.