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Industry bodies back “once in a generation” chance for building regs reform

Construction Products Association and BSRIA back full implementation of Judith Hackitt’s recommendations for new regulatory approach; CIBSE praises unique opportunity for reform

Recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt for a drastic overhaul of construction standards and improved integration of existing safety functions have been welcomed by a range of industry bodies and professional associations as a “once in a generation” opportunity.

The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety that was launched following the Grenfell Tower Fire last week published a final report that was hugely critical of the existing systems for ensuring buildings, particularly high risk, high rise properties, are secure and built as intended.

Dame Judith in her role as review chair, has outlined a range of proposed changes that are intended to tackle what she called overly complex regulation that failed to clearly to define responsibility for buildings and their systems, as well as ensuring the quality of products and materials used in buildings.

The Construction Products Association (CPA) said it fully supported the proposed changes as part of an ongoing collaboration with the government and wider construction supply chain in changing standards and creating a new regulatory framework for high rise properties. This framework is expected to impact a wider range of buildings such as hospitals and care homes, as well as other domestic properties.

The CPA added that the review’s proposals for a new regulatory body called the Joint Competent Authority (JCA) were not expected to see structural change to existing bodies, such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) local authority building controls and fire brigades. The authority would instead serve to ensure better integration of these different organisations’ work.

Engineering consultancy body BSRIA also welcomed the review’s conclusions, noting that the new framework and oversight would be established for and focused on multi-occupancy, higher-risk residential buildings (HRRBs) over 10 storeys in height.

Lasting change

BSRIA chief executive Julie Evans argued for a “wholesale and lasting culture change in how buildings”, while ensuring original designs are met and any deviations from these plans are recorded and accounted for across the supply chain.

Ms Evans expressed hope that Dame Judith’s recommendations were fully implemented in an attempt to end what the independent review called a “race to the bottom” within the current construction supply chain.

She said, “How building regulations are implemented is BSRIA’s key area of concern. A robust method of ensuring buildings are built to the intended standard is something BSRIA is calling for. In fact – the web of regulations – the standards themselves, the framework and implementation – needs unpicking. Independent verification of the performance of components and buildings is necessary.”

“As an industry – we need to drive change in how we operate. We have a collective responsibility to create wellbeing. When lives are at stake, especially, vulnerable ones, there can be no ambiguity.”

“Once in a generation call”

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) said the final report of the independent review, which is over 100 pages long, should be seen as a “once in a generation call” to transform how the construction industry is regulated on a fundamental level.

CIBSE technical director Hywel Davies said that recommendations were an important step to try and address flaws that its membership has been struggling with across construction for many years.

Mr Davies noted that Dame Judith’s conclusions in the review emphasised a need to look at buildings as an overall system, as opposed to focusing on individual components.

He said, “A series of gateways to strengthen regulatory oversight of building safety are proposed, from initial planning through to occupation, with formal sign off and stronger change control processes after sign off.”

“This is coupled with a single enforcement regime for these buildings, replacing the current market mechanism for building control with a single system supported by rigorous and enhanced enforcement powers. Creation of a digital record of higher risk buildings will be a requirement.”

CIBSE noted the inclusion of efforts to improve competence around construction and fire safety through the proposed Joint Competent Authority. It said the findings also back the potential transfer of ownership of technical guidance to industry.

Government would meanwhile retain responsibility for oversight and introducing greater regulatory clarity and guidance.

CIBSE added that it was not clear how the government would ultimately proceed with proposed work to engage with industry on “meaningful” reform.

However, it noted that the secretary of state for housing, communities and local covernment had set out some next steps, which includes consulting on the possibility of ending so-called ‘desktop studies’ that allow for fire safety assessments in lieu of tests in certain circumstances. Commitments for a consultation on banning combustible materials use for cladding high rise properties have also been made.

Mr Davies added,“[Government] has committed to work with industry to improve the user-friendliness of the overall suite of building regulations guidance, work on which CIBSE is already closely involved.”

“And finally, there is a call for ‘everyone involved to have their say on how we can achieve [change in culture and practice]’, by the end of July, with a further, more detailed statement to parliament in the autumn on how the proposed regulatory system is to be implemented.”

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