While the rolling news networks spent the week before Christmas focusing on Brexit, an announcement from the Secretary of State for Housing slipped under the radar that could change England’s construction industry as we know it. In this, James Brokenshire confirmed the Government is going to carry forward all recommendations of the Hackitt Review.
It’s a short sentence that needs a fair bit of unwrapping…
This was an independent report commissioned by the Government following the Grenfell fire. Dame Judith Hackitt’s role was to review building regulations, processes and responsibilities. Its release hit the headlines with phrases such as ‘not fit for purpose’, ‘inadequate regulatory oversight’ and ‘radical rethink’ to describe the current industry.
Hackitt proposed 53 recommendations and it was then the Government’s choice whether to ignore these conclusions, or act on them. They have chosen the latter for all suggestions. A few of these have already been acted on, but most of the hows and whens will be discussed in more detail over the coming months.
The report covers all aspects of the industry from design and planning through to maintenance and tenants. Some of the bigger suggestions include:
An overall review of the Approved Documents
There is a plan to move away from how we currently treat Approved Documents (as individual regulations with specific consultants). A new, holistic set of building regulations could bring all requirements together in a single document.
This could be created by producing an over-arching directory of the various requirements, or could involve rewriting our current building regulations from scratch into a single book.
The Government has committed to updating Parts F, L and M (ventilation, conservation of fuel and accessibility) this year, before tackling this much bigger project.
Better testing of building materials safety
Six of the recommendations focused on having better testing regimes to ensure building materials are safe and appropriate for use. The Government was quickest to act in this area by banning the use of certain cladding materials on buildings, and helping to remove these materials from existing buildings. Part B of the building regulations (fire safety) has already been modified to reflect this.
Regulations that focus on high-rise
Another recommendation is to put more attention towards the safety and quality of high-rise flats. It is likely that additional rules and regulations are going to be introduced that only kick in when a building goes above ten storeys, but how many extra rules and how wide-reaching remains to be seen.
The introduction of ‘dutyholders’
The term ‘dutyholder’ recurs numerous times in the Review and could have massive implications if this becomes a requirement for blocks of flats. A dutyholder would take on the responsibility for the safety of the building and residents. The report recommends a dutyholder should be an owner of the building, should keep a digital record of all construction work, meter readings, safety inspections and incidents. They should meet with residents and authorities to ensure there are no safety issues with the building. This role wouldn’t just apply to new buildings, but would also be brought in when existing high-rises undergo renovation work.
Review of self-certification and competent person schemes
Self-certification schemes and competent person schemes are going to be reviewed to make sure they are fit for purpose. The Review says it should be possible for a client to choose their own regulator, and approved inspectors should be completely independent from the building owners. If this suggestion is brought in to play it’s likely the role of private inspection companies (such as LABC) would need to change so they can operate under the control of a local authority.
With the Government’s commitment to looking into the feasibility of implementing each of these recommendations, it shows there is a desire to see a radical shake-up of how the construction industry works internally, how it communicates to the public and the relevant authorities and how it deals with more defined responsibilities.
The Ministry for Housing now has a long list of items to consider – many of which could have a large impact on building contractors, inspectors and landlord agencies. Work is already underway on some of the more urgent recommendations, with the majority of the Review scheduled for detailed discussions and consultations during 2019.
We’ll add follow-up articles in the future where any changes are announced that impact the Energist world.