Willmott Dixon calls for ‘rethink’ on combustibles ban

Willmott Dixon calls for ‘rethink’ on combustibles ban

THE COMPANY’S chief executive officer warned that ‘efforts to eradicate’ combustible building materials post Grenfell risk going ‘too far’, and create ‘huge’ challenges for developers.

Construction News reported on Rick Willmott’s views after he spoke to the news outlet, noting that he stated that combustible materials are ‘very sensitive territory post-Grenfell, and very rightly so’, but added that ‘we’re perhaps going too far […] the realism, the pragmatism is going’. He called for ‘rethinking and some better direction from government’ on the implications of fire protection guidance’, and said government advice had put developers ‘in a flat spin’ over next steps.

He added that ‘we’re getting to the point now where it is going to be impossible to build any residential premise with anything combustible in the external wall construction […] and that’s property at any height’. The fire safety of many residential properties being built ‘has been put in doubt’, specifically timber framed ones, and ‘from what I understand, having read the government’s advice and how I see the housing associations making moves at the moment’, such homes ‘could well be a property that can never be occupied’.

Mr Willmott predicted that uncertainty would lead to ‘slowdown, delay, inertia and lack of volume’ in new housing supply, in turn ‘exacerbating’ other hurdles including the COVID-19 pandemic. He commented: ‘What terrifies me at the moment, as a contractor, [is that] we’re supposed to take the risk on building regulation change. On the basis that doesn’t happen that often and we should be able to see what’s coming.

‘But we’re in a situation now, post-Grenfell, [where there are] almost uncontrolled changes recommended by MHCLG. When we contract with our customers now, why should we not be asking that we all agree – as we enter this contract – that this building has been designed and fulfils the criteria required by building regulations today?’

For him, changes to building regulations post contract should be ‘a customer problem as opposed to a contractor problem’, and ‘that is going to be a massive discussion with every customer in the UK. Who takes the risk of building regulation change in relation to fire strategy? These are big issues in play and there’s no clarity. There needs to be collaboration between all partners about the best way of protecting against that risk’.

He believed that uncertainty would push a ‘wholesale’ return to brick and block construction, ‘threatening the rollout’ of ‘more productive’ modern methods of construction and use of offsite components, and ‘outlined the scale’ of the challenge should the combustibles ban cover low rise buildings too.

Mr Willmott concluded: ‘The cost to the G15 to put right anything combustible in their entire stock is probably somewhere between £10bn and £15bn. How can they possibly do that without some support. And if they do, how can they possibly build new product? That’s a major hurdle for developers and particularly for the housing associations that are the bedrock of the affordable market.’