Consultation on 'desktop' fire assessments launched
Working groups to monitor high-rise living
17 May 2018 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
Landlords and building managers will be held accountable by a new "joint competent authority" that will oversee safety within multi-occupancy higher-risk residential buildings, according to the final report by Dame Judith Hackitt's review.
Her investigation into building regulations and fire safety was undertaken in response to the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017.
The joint competent authority (JCA) would comprise the combined expertise and knowledge of Local Authority Building Standards and fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The bodies would not be merged but those organisations would provide them with a framework to work from to "more rigorously assess building safety and would create a more unified and consistent intervention process".
The report states that a "clear and identifiable duty holder" with responsibility for building safety of the whole building would be appointed. That person in turn must nominate a building safety manager or declare that he or she will take the role. This duty holder would maintain the fire and structural safety of the whole building, and identify and make improvements where reasonable and practicable.
There will be a requirement for the duty holder to present a safety case to the JCA at regular intervals to check that building safety risks are being managed "so far as is reasonably practicable". The building safety manager will also act as a point of contact for residents so their name and contact information must be notified to the JCA and to residents in the building.
Although the building owner or superior landlord must nominate a building safety manager, accountability remains with the duty holder and "they cannot pass or delegate their accountability to the building safety manager, but can delegate the responsibility for certain tasks to them".
Presenting the report this morning, Dame Judith said: "This is a systematic problem. The current system is far too complex, it lacks clarity as to who is responsible for what, and there is inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement. Simply adding more prescription or making amendments to the current system, such as restricting or prohibiting certain practices, will not address the root causes.
"The recommendations in this report will lead to a clearer, simpler but more robust approach to the building and ongoing management of high-rise residential buildings."
She built on her interim report published earlier this year, setting out six key areas for further work, relating to less prescriptive regulatory framework; clearer roles and responsibilities throughout the design and construction process; more resident consultation; a more rigorous product-testing regime and responsible marketing regime; and strengthening competence of all those involved in building work and to establish an oversight body.
However, Navin Shah, the member of the London Assembly Planning Committee who wrote a report into fire safety calling for sprinklers to be mandatory in all new buildings above 18 metres, said: "It's very disappointing that this review of building and fire regulations has not recommended sprinklers or other similar systems to be made mandatory in all buildings above 18 metres.
"The Fire Commissioner said introducing sprinklers in this way is a 'no-brainer', so it's deeply concerning that the government continues to overlook the seriousness of this issue. The appalling tragedy of Grenfell must never happen again. This is a dangerous missed opportunity to ensure people can feel safe in their homes and I would urge a rapid rethink."
Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: It is good that Dame Judith's report agrees that the current system is not fit for purpose and has set out a range of recommendations for its long-term reform.
"However, our immediate priority is to ensure that a fire like that at Grenfell never happens again, and to make certain the buildings which people live, visit and work in are safe today. It is therefore disappointing that Dame Judith has stopped short of recommending a ban on combustible materials and the use of desktop studies, both essential measures to improve safety.
"The government should nevertheless act without delay to introduce a temporary ban on the use of combustible materials on complex and high-rise buildings and until we have a regulatory and testing system which is fit for the 21st century . This would provide the clarity for building owners who need to know what they can use to replace dangerous cladding and insulation and immediately help keep buildings safer."
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: "Today's report is the culmination of a long and thorough review into the weaknesses of the current approach to competency and compliance in the sector, weaknesses which can serve to undermine safety. It is a suitably serious response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
"Dame Judith has understandably focused the attention of the review on high-rise residential buildings, but we believe strongly that some of the recommendations must be taken as a blueprint for the wider industry. In particular, the industry as a whole needs to develop a comprehensive approach to competence."