Hackitt building regulations report released
THE FINAL report ‘stopped short’ of proposing a ban on flammable cladding, though the government later said it would open a consultation on the matter.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety was launched last year after the Grenfell Tower fire, with its interim review released by Dame Judith last December finding that a ‘universal shift in culture’ is needed to rebuild trust ‘among residents of high-rise buildings’. This is also required to ‘significantly improve the way that fire safety is assured’, and the report calls on the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government to ‘come together’ to address ‘shortcomings’.
The final report has now been released, with BBC News reporting that the review has called for a ‘radical rethink’ of the fire safety system. Dame Judith’s report states that a ‘genuine’ culture change was required in the building sector, and recommended a new regulator be set up to ‘oversee the construction and management of buildings’. This would be called the Joint Competent Authority, comprising building standards, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive.
This would begin with 2,000 to 3,000 ‘high risk’ residential buildings of 10 storeys or more in height, with the report also having ‘strongly criticised’ the existing system, Dame Judith outlining that this has resulted in a ‘prime motivation […] to do thinks as quickly and cheaply as possible’, in a ‘race to the bottom’, while regulations are ‘ambiguous and unclear’, as well as guidance created to meet them.
Regulations and guidance ‘are not always read by those who need to’, and when they do ‘the guidance is misunderstood and misinterpreted’. The system for testing and certifying was also, she added, ‘disjointed, confusing, unhelpful and lacking any sort of transparency’, and The Guardian outlined her point that ‘indifference and ignorance’ were key to poor building standards.
She notes that problems emerging after Grenfell were ‘most definitely not just a question of the specification of cladding systems, but of an industry that has not reflected and learned for itself, nor looked to other sectors’, citing the events at the Ledbury Estate, the failure of a Grenfell fire door and the Liverpool Arena car park fire.
Her view was that her goal was to ‘strengthen regulatory oversight during the design and construction process’, but she also ‘stopped short’ of banning desktop studies, adding that she wanted these – as opposed to fire tests – to be carried out only by qualified people’ which would ‘effectively stop unregulated fire engineers’ paid by builders or owners from declaring systems safe.
On combustible materials, she stated: ‘This is most definitely not a question of the specification of cladding systems. Simply adding more prescription, of making amendments to the current system, such as restricting or prohibiting certain practices, will not address the root causes.’
A new regulations system ‘should place faith’ in the construction industry ‘to take responsibility for the delivery of safe buildings rather than looking to others to tell them what is or is not acceptable’, and ‘it will be important now for industry to show leadership in driving this forward’. Concerns raised in the building process are ignored as ‘the primary motivation is to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible rather than to deliver quality homes’.
Some builders manipulate the ambiguity of the regulations to ‘game the system’, while others were unaware of who was in charge, while enforcement is ‘patchy’ and penalties are ‘so small as to be ineffective’, her report recommending tougher penalties and prosecutions able to be brought up to six years after an incident.
She concluded: ‘We do not want to have to wait for a tragedy like Grenfell before we apply the full criminal sanctions of the law. We have to get to a position where people putting lives at risk by what they’re doing gets picked up at the time and there’s sanctions applied there and then, not in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy like Grenfell. If this had been in place prior to Grenfell, I do not believe the cladding that was put on Grenfell would have got through the system in the first place.’
Responding to media questions after publishing the report, Dame Judith said she would support a government ban of combustible materials ‘as long as it was alongside wider reforms’. The Guardian later reported that the government had opened a consultation on banning combustible materials, with Housing Secretary James Brokenshire making the announcement to the House of Commons.
He stated that ‘the government will consult on banning the use of combustible materials in cladding on high-rise buildings’, though it was unclear, The Guardian stated, ‘if he meant just external panels or also insulation, both of which were combustible at Grenfell’.