The Grenfell fire was back in the news again with the release of a long-awaited review into UK building regulations on Thursday 17 May. Regulations governing fire safety were heavily criticised following the tragedy.
Dame Judith Hackitt authored the report which attracted some negative attention. So, what did the report have to say and who were the critics? In this blog, we’ll review the report and its recommendations as well as the media and industry reaction.
What is the Hackitt review?
In the immediate aftermath of Grenfell, numerous media outlets shone a spotlight on the combustible cladding which appeared to have accelerated the blaze. Tests soon revealed that the material used in the cladding was not compliant with building regulations. The government requested audits to be carried out on tower blocks with cladding around the country which raised further concerns.
Amidst the tension and fraught media speculation, the Department for Local Communities and Government ordered an Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety at the end of July 2017. The review was to have a special focus on high-rise buildings.
What does the report conclude?
Dame Judith presented her interim report in December 2017 and has just released the final version. Both reports clearly identified that ‘the current system of building regulations and fire safety is not fit for purpose and that a culture change is required to support the delivery of buildings that are safe, both now and in the future’.
She also cited a ‘culture of indifference’ which has been allowed to perpetuate.
In the final report, an overview of some of the specific problem areas was included:
- Roles and responsibilities in the building industry are unclear e.g. procurement, design, construction and maintenance
- Current regulations and guidance can be ambiguous
- Compliance processes that do exist aren’t always fit for purpose
- Competence was said to be ‘patchy’ across the system
- Product testing, labelling and marketing was insufficient
- The concerns of those living in these buildings often go unheard
It goes on to outline recommendations for the Department for Local Communities and Government, in the form of a new regulatory framework. All the proposed changes are designed to address the weaknesses outlined above. As the BBC reported, Dame Judith called for regulators to come together to ensure building safety. The FIA also posted its review of the report.
Here, we look briefly at what the new framework is designed to do:
Create a more simple and effective mechanism for driving building safety
The framework will include proportionate responsibilities for those involved in the building life cycle. Whether it’s the initial design or maintenance further down the line, the framework is intended to act as a series of interdependent changes where one new measure affects the next.
Provide stronger oversight of ‘dutyholders’
This measure includes incentives for ‘good behaviour’ and sanctions for poor performance. Dame Judith proposes that robust oversight be achieved through a single, coherent regulatory body which oversees all dutyholders across the building life cycle. She recommends that this body is given rigorous enforcement powers.
Intervention points will be established to identify issues as and when they occur. What’s more, change control and information keeping will be drastically improved.
Reassert the rights of residents
The media heaped criticism on Kensington and Chelsea tenant management organisation for ignoring repeated pleas from the residents over safety concerns in the months before the fire. Dame Judith’s report addresses this issue head on, proposing a ‘no-risk route for redress’. Residents will be offered ‘greater reassurances about the safety of their homes’.
Why has the Hackitt report attracted criticism?
In spite of a range of powerful recommendations, the report stopped short of banning combustible cladding and insulation. Many independent groups have called for the ban. Dame Judith defended her position on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, saying, “You have to go beyond simply specifying what can and can’t be used.” She added, “This is a broken system and it needs to be fixed.”
Essentially, Dame Judith’s position is that wider system reform with adequate checks and balances will effectively rule out the future use of these types of material.
What will the government do next?
While the report didn’t call for the ban, the Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire, announced on the same day as the report’s release that the government would launch a consultation on that very topic.
In addition, the government has promised to commit to ‘meaningful and lasting reform of the building regulatory system’. Nothing more has been announced regarding the scope of any future consultations but we’ll be sure to bring you these updates in future blogs.
Despite Mr Brokenshire’s assurances, Labour MPs were not satisfied calling for an immediate ban on the use of combustible cladding. It’s worth noting that the legislative process needed to enshrine reform can take many months.
Families invited to give evidence at Grenfell Tower Inquiry
Just a few days after the report was released and almost a year since the tragedy, this week also saw families affected by the fire invited to give evidence at the official inquiry.
The inquiry has been ongoing for several months (we first talked about it here). The proceedings thus far have focused on establishing who the key players are, granting ‘core participant status’ to individuals and organisations, and reviewing thousands of documents.
But today marked a poignant moment in the proceedings with commemoration hearings for those who lost their lives. Families spoke movingly of loved ones and talked about the devastating impact the fire had had on them. Sir Martin Moore-Bick opened the inquiry by stressing how important these tributes are. “They are an integral part of the evidence before the inquiry. They will remind us of its fundamental purpose and the reason why it is so important that the truth be laid bare.”
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