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Post-Grenfell building regulations review demands radical reforms

Review chair Dame Judith Hackett calls for end of overly complex regulation and a focus on clearer assignment of responsibility over the entire lifecycle of a building

The Independent Review of Building Regulations launched following the Grenfell Tower fire has demanded radical regulatory reform of how buildings are designed, built and maintained, with the government committing to seek advice on how best to ensure “meaningful” change.

Dame Judith Hackitt, who has chaired the independent review, set out several key areas for reform that she believes are needed to tackle an overly complex system of regulations that lacked clarity around who is responsible for buildings and their vital systems such as heating and cooling. Overhauls are also required on ensuring the safety of products and materials used as part of the construction process, the review added.

Dame Judith said she was now urging industry leaders across construction supply to step forward and work with government on realising how changes can be made – building on work undertaken during the review to identify areas of concern in the construction sector.

Key recommendations in the findings include introducing a new regulator to ensure a “less prescriptive, outcomes-based approach” for safety. Dame Judith’s findings supported improved clarity over those responsible for the safety of buildings and their systems during design and construction, as well as when they are occupied.

The report has also called for residents to be consulted around decisions that may impact the safety of their home, and improved mechanisms to raise concerns about potential safety failings or dangerous design.

The introduction of a “more rigorous and transparent product testing regime” and more responsible marketing were set out in the review as other major changes that should be introduced.

Dame Judith said she was calling on the construction industry to take leadership and establish an oversight body to ensure stronger competence in all aspects of building work.

The report has also called for a new approach to assigning clearer responsibility for a building and its systems include stepping up obligations to provide an up-to-date Fire and Emergency File (FEF) that is maintained by and later passed on from principal designers and contractors to the assigned building owner. This is expected to set out effective management of a building during a fire, along with details of possible high risks areas in a building such as heating technology and how this may impact precautions.

According to Dame Judith, the proposed regulatory framework amendments have been put forward for higher-risk residential properties, although the standards are intended to ensure a broader industry change for both new and older buildings.

Government response

Government has meanwhile committed to seek advice over how best to ensure “meaningful” legislative reform following the publication of the independent review’s report.

MP James Brokenshire, the secretary of state for housing, said he welcomed Dame Judith’s findings in calling for fundamental safety reforms across a number of areas of construction. He said the government would look to implement amendments based on the review and several upcoming consultations as quickly as possible as part of an ongoing response to the fire at Grenfell.

He said, “The cladding believed to be on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations. It should not have been used.”

“I will ensure there is no room for doubt over what materials can be used safely. Having listened carefully to concerns, I will consult on banning the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings.”

Competence and compliance

Industry body BESA said it also welcomed the findings of the independent review and its conclusions on tackling systematic problems within construction, as opposed to focusing on a specific technical concern.

Association chief executive David Frise said the construction industry needed to move forward with a new approach to regulation focused on the entire lifecycle of a building. He backed a specific focus on the issues of competence and compliance.

Mr Frise added, ““Dame Judith’s team spotted right at the start that it was not the building regulations themselves, but how they were applied and enforced that allowed a culture to develop, which led to the Grenfell tragedy. Banning cladding would not move that issue forward – it was the way in which the refurbishment of the tower was managed and delivered, as a whole, that should face scrutiny.”

BESA noted that the review warned of another major systematic failing in the occurrence of construction work that begins before building control signs off a design or is too far into work to introduce recommended fire safety features. A perceived lack of meaningful penalties for such infringements was viewed by BESA as further setting back building quality.

Mr Frise argued that existing third party accredited competent person schemes could help meet calls in the review over new approaches to competence.

He added that clear penalties should be introduced to further highlight the issue of compliance following on from the Grenfell Tower fire.

Mr Frise said, “We need output-based regulations reinforced by financial and criminal penalties that far outweigh any benefits you might gain from cutting corners. The cladding might have been the weak point in this particular project, but we need a system that flags up all potential threats.”

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