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Monday, 21 October

Hackitt's Hatchet - Dame Judith Takes Swipe At Not Fit For Purpose Building Regulations and Fire Safety

Dame Judith Hackitt

Dame Judith Hackitt's Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: final report was published on May 17.

The review was commissioned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and has concluded that significant systemic reform is needed spanning every aspect of the life of a high-rise building - from design to construction to ownership and on-going management and maintenance.

 

Regulations misunderstood

The review has found that regulations and guidance are misunderstood and oversight and enforcement are inadequate. The recommendations set out a new regulatory system. Dame Judith says a collaborative approach is crucial, bringing together government, industry and the community.

Many of the ideas proposed could be applied to a wider range of buildings and aim to drive change more broadly.

 

Grenfell Inquiry

Dame Judith Hackitt’s report is separate to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (which will begin hearing on May 21) and importantly, does not replace the criminal investigation or seek to identify the cause of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

 

Reform

Fundamental reform is needed to improve building safety and to rebuild trust among residents of high-rise buildings, says the Hackitt Review. Dame Judith has acted as the Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.

At the heart of the new system will be a requirement for the construction industry to take responsibility for the delivery of safe buildings, rather than looking to others to tell them what is or is not acceptable.

Hackitt said: "This is a systemic 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 report makes recommendations relating to:

  • A less prescriptive, outcomes-based approach to the regulatory framework to be overseen by a new regulator that can drive the right behaviours.

  • Clearer roles and responsibilities throughout the design and construction process and during occupation, to ensure real accountability for building safety.

  • Residents to be consulted and involved in decisions affecting the safety of their home and listened to if they have concerns.

  • A more rigorous and transparent product testing regime and a more responsible marketing regime.

  • Industry to lead on strengthening competence of all those involved in building work and to establish an oversight body.

 

Executive Summary

Ignorance – regulations and guidance are not always read by those who need to, and when they do the guidance is misunderstood and misinterpreted.

 

Indifference – the primary motivation is to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible rather than to deliver quality homes which are safe for people to live in. When concerns are raised, by others involved in building work or by residents, they are often ignored. Some of those undertaking building work fail to prioritise safety, using the ambiguity of regulations and guidance to 'game' the system.

 

Lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities – there is ambiguity over where responsibility lies, exacerbated by a level of fragmentation within the industry and precluding robust ownership of accountability.

 

Inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools – the size or complexity of a project does not seem to inform the way in which it is overseen by the regulator. Where enforcement is necessary, it is often not pursued. Where it is pursued, the penalties are so small as to be an ineffective deterrent. The above issues have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ caused either through ignorance, indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice. There is insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe and feel safe.  There are many people who stand ready and willing to help deliver this level of radical change and are ready to take on the key principles:

 

What is described in this report is an integrated systemic change not a shopping list of changes which can be picked out on a selective basis.

To embed this systemic change will require legislative change and therefore take time to fully implement. There is no reason to wait for legal change to start the process of behaviour change once it is clear what is coming and what is expected. A sense of urgency and commitment from everyone is needed.

 

Remedial work

We must find a way to apply these principles to the existing stock of complex high-rise residential buildings as well as new builds. That is a moral obligation to those who are now living in buildings which they bought or rented in good faith assuming them to be safe and where there is now reason to doubt that. This will take time and there will be a cost attached to it. It is beyond the scope of this review to determine how remedial work is funded but this cannot be allowed to stand in the way of assuring public safety.

We need to maintain the spirit of collaboration and partnership which has been a feature of the review process to date. In a sector that is excessively fragmented we have seen during the course of this review a will to work together to deliver consistent solutions. This will be especially important going forward to change culture.

 

Other building types

The ideas proposed in this report have broader application to a wider range of buildings and to drive change more broadly.

 

Building slow-down?

There will be those who will be fearful that the change will slow down the build of much needed new housing; however, there is every reason to believe that the opposite will be true. More rigour and oversight at the front end of the process can lead to significant increases in productivity, reduction in ongoing costs and to better outcomes for all in the latter and ongoing stages of the process. Improving the procurement process will play a large part in setting the tone for any construction project. This is where the drive for quality and good outcomes, rather than lowest cost, must start.

 

Fault lines

The roles and responsibilities of those procuring, designing, constructing and maintaining buildings are unclear.

The package of regulations and guidance (in the form of Approved Documents) can be ambiguous and inconsistent.

The processes that drive compliance with building safety requirements are weak and complex with poor record keeping and change control in too many cases.

Competence across the system is patchy.

The product testing, labelling and marketing regime is opaque and insufficient.

The voices of residents often goes unheard, even when safety issues are identified.

 

What to do

The new regulatory framework set out in this report must address all of these weaknesses if there is to be a stronger focus on creating and maintaining safe buildings. It must strengthen regulatory oversight to create both positive incentives to comply with building safety requirements and to effectively deter noncompliance. It must clarify roles and responsibilities. It must raise and assure competence levels, as well as improving the quality and performance of construction products. Residents must feel safe and be safe and must be listened to when concerns about building safety are raised. This new regulatory framework must be delivered as a package. The framework will be based around a series of interdependent, mutually reinforcing changes where one new measure drives another. In doing so it reflects the reality of most high-rise buildings which operate as a complex inter-locking system. Only this genuine system transformation will ensure that people living in high rise buildings are safe and have confidence in the safety of their building, both now and in the future.

The new framework is designed to:

  • Create a more simple and effective mechanism for driving building safety – a clear and proportionate package of responsibilities for dutyholders across the building life cycle. This means more time will be spent upfront on getting building design and ongoing safety right for the buildings in scope. This will create the potential for efficiency gains; scope for innovation in building practices; and value for money benefits from constructing a building that has longer-term integrity and robustness.

  • Provide stronger oversight of dutyholders with incentives for the right behaviours and effective sanctions for poor performance – more rigorous oversight of dutyholders will be created through a single coherent regulatory body that oversees dutyholders’ management of buildings in scope across their entire lifecycle. A strengthened set of intervention points will be created with more effective change control processes and information provision.

  • Reassert the role of residents - a no risk route for redress will be created and greater reassurances about the safety of their home will be offered, as well as ensuring that residents understand their role and responsibilities for keeping their building safe for themselves and their neighbours. In making these changes, the new framework will also radically enhance the current model of responsibility so that those who procure, design, create and maintain buildings are responsible for ensuring that those buildings are safe for those who live and work in them.

  • Government will set clear outcome based requirements for the building safety standards which must be achieved. • The regulator will hold dutyholders to account, ensure that the standards are met and take action against those who fail to meet the requirements.

  • Residents will actively participate in the ongoing safety of the building and must be recognised by others as having a voice. Recommendations The recommendations for this new framework are explained over the following ten chapters of this report and are summarised below.

  • The key parameters of a new regulatory framework will establish a new regulatory framework focused, in the first instance, on multi-occupancy higher risk residential buildings (HRRBs) that are 10 storeys or more in height; a new Joint Competent Authority (JCA) comprising Local Authority Building Standards, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive to oversee better management of safety risks in these buildings (through safety cases) across their entire life cycle; a mandatory incident reporting mechanism for dutyholders with concerns about the safety of a HRRB.

  • Improving the focus on building safety during the design, construction and refurbishment phases through: a set of rigorous and demanding dutyholder roles and responsibilities to ensure a stronger focus on building safety. These roles and responsibilities will broadly align with those set out in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015; a proposed new name for Local Authority Building Control; a series of robust gateway points to strengthen regulatory oversight that will require dutyholders to show to the JCA that their plans are detailed and robust; that their understanding and management of building safety is appropriate; and that they can properly account for the safety of the completed building in order to gain permission to move onto the next phase of work and in due course, allow their building to be occupied; a stronger change control process that will require robust record-keeping by the dutyholder of all changes made to the detailed plans previously signed off by the JCA. More significant changes will require permission from the JCA to proceed; a single, more streamlined, regulatory route to oversee building standards as part of the JCA to ensure that regulatory oversight of these buildings is independent from clients, designers and contractors and that enforcement can and does take place where that is necessary.

 

More rigorous enforcement powers.

  • A wider and more flexible range of powers will be created to focus incentives on the creation of reliably safe buildings from the outset. This also means more serious penalties for those who choose to 'game' the system and place residents at risk. Improving the focus on building safety during the occupation phase; a clear and identifiable dutyholder with responsibility for building safety of the whole building. The dutyholder during occupation and maintenance should maintain the fire and structural safety of the whole building, and identify and make improvements where reasonable and practicable; a requirement on the dutyholder 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; clearer rights and obligations for residents to maintain the fire safety of individual dwellings, working in partnership with the dutyholder. a regulator for the whole of the building (the JCA) in relation to fire and structural safety in occupation who can take a proactive, holistic view of building safety and hold dutyholders to account with robust sanctions where necessary.

  • The construction sector and fire safety sector demonstrating more effective leadership for ensuring building safety amongst key roles including an overarching body to provide oversight of competence requirements.

  • Creating a more effective balance between government ownership of building standards and industry ownership of technical guidance.

  • Moving towards a system where ownership of technical guidance rests with industry as the intelligent lead in delivering building safety and providing it with the flexibility to ensure that guidance keeps pace with changing practices with continuing oversight from an organisation prescribed by government.

  • A package of regulations and guidance that is simpler to navigate but that genuinely reflects the level of complexity of the building work. This new approach will reinforce the concept of delivering building safety as a system rather than by considering a series of competing or isolated objectives.

  • Creating a more robust and transparent construction products regime through a more effective testing regime with clearer labelling and product traceability, including a periodic review process of test methods and the range of standards in order to drive continuous improvement and higher performance and encourage innovative product and system design under better quality control. This regime would be underpinned by a more effective market surveillance system operating at a national level.

  • Creating a golden thread of information about each HRRB by obligating the creation of a digital record for new HRRBs from initial design intent through to construction and including any changes that occur throughout occupation. This package of building information will be used by the dutyholders to demonstrate to the regulator the safety of the building throughout its life cycle.

  • Tackling poor procurement practices including through the roles and responsibilities set out above, to drive the right behaviours to make sure that high-safety, low-risk options are prioritised and full life cycle cost is considered when a building is procured.

  •  Ensuring continuous improvement and bestpractice learning through membership of an international body. The recommendations in this report relate predominantly to HRRBs which will be overseen by the JCA. However, it is made clear in the following chapters where the review believes that there would be merit in certain aspects of the new regulatory framework applying to a wider set of buildings.

Picture: Dame Judith Hackitt.

 

 

To read the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: final report - Click Here

Article written by Brian Shillibeer

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