8 January 2018 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
The current regulatory system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings is not fit for purpose, according to the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety by Dame Judith Hackitt.
The Hackitt Review was called after a fire engulfed the Grenfell Tower council block on the Lancaster Estate in West London, claiming the lives of at least 80 people in June 2017.
Her interim report, which precedes the full report out in spring 2018, states that current regulations and guidance are "too complex and unclear" and this can "lead to confusion and misinterpretation in their application to high-rise and complex buildings".
It goes on to say that "the clarity of roles and responsibilities is poor" and even where "there are requirements for key activities to take place across design, construction and maintenance, it is not always clear who has responsibility for making it happen".
Despite many who demonstrate good practice, the means of assessing and ensuring the competency of key people throughout the system is inadequate, the report adds. There is often no differentiation in competency requirements for those working on high-rise and complex buildings.
Compliance, enforcement and sanctions processes are too weak and what is being designed is not what is being built and there is "a lack of robust change control" and "the lack of meaningful sanctions does not drive the right behaviours".
The route for residents to escalate concerns is unclear and inadequate, as is the system of product testing, marketing and quality assurance.
This interim report provides a summary of what has been learned so far, the proposed direction of travel for the next phase of work and the rationale for that. It also identifies some early actions that can and should be taken to support the future direction of travel; these will help to ensure delivery in an appropriately timely manner.
The interim report is "a call to action for an entire industry and those parts of government that oversee it".
It adds that "true and lasting change will require a universal shift in culture" and the industry has shown this is possible in the way the health and safety of construction workers has seen a positive transformation in culture and practice over the past decade.
Lord Porter, Local Government Association chairman, said: "The government needs to endorse the report's findings without delay and work with councils and the industry to take the process of reform forward in the way Dame Judith has set out. This will obviously need to include rewriting the documents relating to the installation of cladding and insulation on external walls of buildings so they are easier to understand and comply with.
"What happened at Grenfell Tower can never be allowed to happen again and no one should have to live in fear about their safety, be that in the buildings they live in, work in or visit. It is clear that all types of landlords also need urgent clarity about how they should be replacing materials on their high-rise blocks affected by fire safety test fails while we have raised wider concerns about the general safety of other clad buildings.
"Councils have acted quickly to put in safety measures in their high-rise blocks to reassure residents. With the majority of high-rise buildings affected by fire safety test fails owned by private landlords, councils continue to work hard to support building owners in their area to deal with the issue and to try and confirm with the owners of thousands of private high-rise residential buildings to identify the cladding and insulation systems on those blocks.
"While councils will continue to get on with what they need to do and are ready to play a leading role in making sure a new system of building regulation works, significant funding concerns remain. The government needs to meet the unexpected exceptional costs for councils arising from conducting fire safety and major remedial work and for any essential fire and safety measures needed."
A summit will be called in early 2018 with key stakeholders to discuss taking the report forward.