Hackitt comments on Persimmon issues

Hackitt comments on Persimmon issues

DAME JUDITH Hackitt said that she would be ‘very surprised’ if the homebuilder’s issue with fire safety was just affecting Persimmon.

In April last year, it was revealed that Persimmon was inspecting ‘hundreds’ of homes in Plymouth, after news earlier that year that a resident in a block of flats in Exeter claimed his pet python’s escape and discovery ‘exposed fire safety breaches’ in ‘missing’ fire safety compartmentation. Persimmon later admitted that it was inspecting a ‘wider area of properties’, with inspections broadened out.

In March 2019 missing barriers were confirmed in properties in Cornwall and Devon, and the inspection programme found over 650 homes in the south west had ‘missing or incorrectly installed’ barriers. In May a BBC Watchdog Live investigation found that new homes have ‘potentially dangerous’ issues, including being sold with ‘missing or incorrectly installed’ fire barriers.

One Exeter estate had 37% of homes missing fire barriers, and the investigation established that ‘serious breaches have gone undetected during construction’, while a 48 apartment Coventry building was evacuated after defects were found. It was then revealed that nearly 50 new builds in Kent were to be inspected due to ‘concerns’ over whether ‘adequate’ fire safety measures have been installed correctly in roofs, and in September 2019 homes in Barry, Wales had the same issues.

In December 2019, the company was found by an independent review it commissioned to have experienced a ‘systemic nationwide failure’ to install firestopping in homes. Persimmon was leaving customers exposed to an ‘intolerable risk’ of fire, and had experienced a ‘systemic nationwide failure’ in terms of installing cavity barriers. It also noted that the failure to meet minimum building standards was a ‘manifestation of poor culture’ at the company.

It urged company directors to ‘reconsider Persimmon’s purpose and ambition’, as it has a ‘nationwide problem of missing and/or incorrectly installed cavity barriers in its timber-frame properties’. Despite having ‘reacted quickly’ to the issue, Persimmon only inspected the eaves of properties, ‘and not assessed whether the same problem was occurring in party walls and around windows and doors’.

The company has undertaken over 16,000 inspections, and said it would take ‘all reasonable action to identify and remediate every house’ affected. Despite this, the report established a ‘culture of non-observance’ to safety checks, with staff having treated them as a ‘mere box-ticking exercise […] stemming from a belief that any single stage is not important, as another check or inspection will follow later’.

Most recently, another development in Cornwall was set to be inspected, and Building has reported on the views of Dame Judith, who said that she would be ‘very surprised’ if this issue was just affecting Persimmon. With the company having appointed Arup to assess if ‘it has done enough to address’ the cavity problems, Dame Judith said that ‘I think the action they took was sensible, I think it should be a wake-up call to others to do the same’.

She added in turn that ‘the time is right and indeed I would say overdue for every big organisation to be doing that and getting themselves ready for what in all honesty they should already have been doing but now they know they are going to be made to do by regulation’. Housebuilders should not wait for regulatory change as they have a ‘moral responsibility’ to deliver safe homes, she stated.

Dame Judith also noted that ‘no one manufactures cars without guaranteeing that they will be safe and roadworthy, why should houses be any different?’.