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Friday, 13 December

Brokenshire Declares Building Regs Broken

James Brokenshire MP

May 17 - the Government has made a series of commitments to major building safety reforms. They were announced by James Brokenshire MP and Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government to coincide with the publication of Dame Judith Hackitt's Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: final report.

Brokenshire said the Government will lead fundamental reform of the system, with strong sanctions for those who fail to comply.

However, the Government is still to consult on banning the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings - and if a ban is imposed, will have to decide on whether it is retrospective.

A consultation on banning desktop studies closes on May 25 - with the possibility that computer modelling of what happens in a fire will be banned altogether - or more likely allowed but only if backed by reasonable physical test evidence.

 

The government has committed to:

  • Launching a consultation on banning the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings.

  • Banning desktop studies if the current consultation – which closes on 25 May – does not demonstrate that they can be safely used.

  • Ensuring residents have a better mechanism for blowing the whistle on landlords who do not maintain safe buildings.

  • Changing the law to achieve meaningful and lasting reform of the building regulatory system, with strong sanctions for those who fail to comply.

  • Inviting views to inform how the government could implement major reform of the regulatory system.

  • Restructuring building regulations fire safety guidance to ensure it is clear.

This is in addition to the £400 million of funding announced by the Prime Minister on May 16 to fund local authorities and housing associations with the removal and replacement of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, the type used on Grenfell Tower, on social housing buildings above 18 metres.

James Brokenshire MP, said: "It has been deeply moving to hear directly from the Grenfell Tower survivors and community in my first few weeks as Secretary of State. This was a terrible tragedy that should never have happened. I welcome Dame Judith Hackitt’s comprehensive report and her calls for fundamental reform in the building sector. I am committed to making that happen as quickly as possible."

 

Unlawful

Brokenshire continued: "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 and I will consult on banning the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings.

"We must ensure the tragedy at Grenfell brings change and I call on the industry to work with me to achieve the urgent reform needed."

 

Hackitt Review

Brokenshire told the House of Commons that the publication of the Hackitt Review represents a watershed. "Dame Judith is clear that the current system - developed over many years and successive governments - is not fit for purpose."

Hackitt is calling for major reform and a change of culture, with the onus more clearly on everyone involved to manage the risks they create at every stage and government doing more to set and enforce high standards."

Brokenshire said: "This government agrees with that assessment and supports the principles behind the report’s recommendations for a new system. We agree with the call for greater clarity and accountability over who is responsible for building safety during the construction, refurbishment and on-going management of high-rise homes."

Brokenshire has spoken particularly about domestic high-rises as has Hackitt - though it is obvious that any changes to the building and/fire regulation will also encompass commercial premises as well.

Brokenshire said: "The Hackitt review has shown that in too many cases people who should be accountable for fire safety have failed in their duties. In future, the government will ensure that those responsible for a building must demonstrate they have taken decisive action to reduce building safety risks and will be held to account.

"We agree that the system should be overseen by a more effective regulatory framework, including stronger powers to inspect high-rise buildings and sanctions to tackle irresponsible behaviour."

 

Buck passing

Brokenshire also declared to the House: "There should be no buck passing," as he proceeded to pass the buck to the 'industry'. He said that everyone needs to work together to change the system.

However, the 'system' is mightily flawed with a race to the bottom in passive fire protection being further compromised by energy efficiency measures such as cladding. Add to this, the number of different components conjoined in building façades that are not tested together; or items that are fire tested in conjunction with items that would not normally be conjoined (as in BSEN13644 where a fire stop is tested with a fire proof curtain wall when nearly all curtain walls are not fire even resistant); and there being no real standards for openings (such as windows) despite these openings being the easiest place for fire to breach and climb up the outside of a building.

 

Retro

Most observers are of the opinion that despite the promise to remove ACMs, there will be no legal imperative to remove combustible components from existing buildings. However, the insurance industry is already gearing up to impose their own deterrent levy - refusing to insure buildings with combustible components (from both the residential and commercial sectors) or raising premiums to an astronomical level.

Brokenshire has agreed to report to the House again in July and again in the autumn with Building Regulations fire safety guidance published in July for consultation.

Picture: James Brokenshire MP and Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government spoke in the House of Commons to coincide with the publication of Dame Judith Hackitt's Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.

Article written by Brian Shillibeer

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