Not fit for purpose

The chair of an independent review into building regulations and fire safety has found that the current system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise buildings is not fit for purpose.

Furthermore, a ‘universal shift in culture’ is required to rebuild trust among residents of high-rise buildings and significantly improve the way that fire safety is assured.

Dame Judith Hackitt, who was appointed by government to lead an independent review of building regulations and fire safety following the Grenfell fire, published her interim findings just before Christmas.

Dame Judith is also calling on the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government to come together to address the ‘shortcomings’ identified so far.

The report has been universally welcomed by trade associations, with the Federation of Master Builders calling it a “positive step forward to address a multitude of failings within the construction industry and among its regulators”.

The interim report has found that:
a culture change is required, with industry taking greater responsibility for what is built, which needs to start now

the current system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise buildings is not fit for purpose

a clear, quick and effective route for residents to raise concerns and be listened to must be created

“I have found that the regulatory system for safely designing, constructing and managing buildings is not fit for purpose,” Dame Judith Hackitt said. “The current system is highly complex and there is confusion about the roles and responsibilities at each stage. In many areas there is a lack of competence and accreditation.

“While this does not mean all buildings are unsafe, it does mean we need to build a more effective system for the future. That is why I am today calling for the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government to come together to identify how to overcome these shortcomings together.”

The interim report sets out six broad areas for change:
ensuring that regulation and guidance is risk-based, proportionate and unambiguous
clarifying roles and responsibilities for ensuring that buildings are safe

improving levels of competence within the industry

improving the process, compliance and enforcement of regulations
creating a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ voices to be heard and listened to
improving testing, marketing and quality assurance of products used in construction

The independent review will now undertake its second phase of work, including targeted work in partnership with the sector and other stakeholders.

A summit involving government and representatives from the building industry is due to take place, and a final report will be published in the spring 2018.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “We welcome the interim findings of the Hackitt Review which make clear that there is much for the construction industry and its regulators to address post-Grenfell.”

He continued: “We are also pleased that the review has recognised that current building regulations and guidance are too complex and unclear.”

Peter Caplehorn, CPA deputy chief executive and policy director, said: “Dame Judith’s Independent Review is right to question how the construction sector can address the effectiveness of regulations and regulators. The construction products industry has a vital role to play, leading a culture change and, in Dame Judith’s own words, ensuring products are not only properly tested and certified but also marketed in a way that is easy to interpret.”

Iain McIlwee, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation, drew attention to the cost of repairs.

“We are calling for the Treasury to make an allocation for long term and potentially life-critical works by creating a Building Safety Fund (similar to the Pension Protection Fund),” he said. “This will offer a solution to the current predicament of housing associations and local authorities, providing them with a scheme to apply to for compensation to support replacement and repair cost. The fund would alleviate concerns from building managers and most importantly, tenants, while helping consolidate legal matters through a centrally controlled process.”

DHF’s CEO Bob Perry said: “The issue of competence is crucial to fire doors as to many other systems within the building. In the case of fire doors, however, the system is uniquely vulnerable to damage caused by use and abuse. This necessitates a high level of maintenance activity, which must be continually undertaken by competent persons throughout the life of the building, not solely during the construction phase or major refurbishment. We would like to see these four elements become mandatory requirements to deliver simplification and underpin building regulation.”

These views were supported by the Guild of Architectural Ironmongers (GAI).

“A better regime of inspecting the installation of fire doors and ironmongery on site by a trained professional who is aware of many of the regulations and standards as well as their application would eliminate many of the current gaps in fire safety,” Douglas Masterson, GAI technical manager, said.