Nearly one year on from the Grenfell fire, Dame Judith Hackitt's independent review of building regulations and fire safety has been released.
Understandably there has been a lot of interest around the conclusions of the review, and we’re sure the politicians, industry leaders and tower-block residents will continue to debate the findings and the best way forward for months to come.
This has been a very emotive subject for a lot of people. Now the report has been released, has it gone far enough to change the way we build our homes in the future?
Right from the off, Dame Hackitt follows the same tone as she used in her Interim Report which was published at the end of last year. The introduction isn’t woolly with its wording; referring to the construction industry as one which ‘has not reflected or learnt from itself’, and having cultural issues giving us a ‘race to the bottom’.
She goes on to say the industry needs a ‘radical rethink’ to move away from the primary motivation to do things quickly and cheaply, instead of putting the focus on quality.
In total, there are 50 recommendations for changing frameworks, auditing processes, safety tests and responsibilities. The Government was quick to release a statement that welcomed the report, and immediately committed to a handful of the suggestions. But it’s not under any obligation to implement any of these recommendations, so which of these recommendations make it through to legislation, only time, and multiple consultations, will tell.
We’ve dodged around the main headlines, and picked out some of the lesser-reported points which we think are key for developers to be aware of.
Higher Risk Residential Buildings (HRRB)
The focus of the Hackitt Review is on Higher Risk Residential Buildings – HRRBs. These are multiple occupancy buildings that are ten storeys or higher. The majority of recommendations are made to improve the safety of people living and working in HRRBs - both new and existing. The report includes lower blocks of flats, but to a lesser extent.
The apparent lack of responsibility was a concern for many during the months that followed Grenfell, and this appears to have been addressed by recommending that all HRRB’s have a dedicated Dutyholder.
For proposed new dwellings, the dutyholder role would be filled before permission to build is granted. They would be responsible for gathering all construction evidence to ensure all building and safety requirements are being met before a single person moves in.
When construction is complete and final sign off is given, the role of the dutyholder doesn’t come to an end… This individual must then take charge of the day-to-day safety of the building and its occupants. Among the many proposed tasks, they will need to maintain a digital file containing drawings, specifications, emergency plans, review reports and key contact information. These files need to be made available to residents on request.
They also need to work with building occupants to make sure residents can raise safety concerns, and regularly report to the relevant authorities to show regular maintenance checks and reviews are taking place.
It is suggested the Dutyholder role is established for all HRRB buildings, and should be either an owner of the building or a ‘superior landlord’. With an estimated 2 to 3,000 existing HRRBs in England, it will be interesting to see how quickly people step up to take this responsibility – although many would have no choice and will need to assume the role, if these proposals are implemented.
Building regulations rewrite
Elsewhere in the Hackitt Report, it is suggested that Building Regulations should be rewritten so they are easier to understand with user-friendly language. An over-arching document should be created which feeds into the separate parts with the aim of removing ambiguity between the different sections of the current regulations.
The Report suggests a long-term aim should be to move Building Regulations away from Government so it is owned by the industry. The Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC) should be replaced with a new structure which can validate, assure guidance, oversee performance and provide expert advice.
It has been recommended that Parts A and B (Structure and Fire Safety) are reviewed first. We are already two years behind schedule for a revised Part L, so it’s anyone’s guess as to when the new energy efficiency standards will be given sign-off. We can’t imagine they’re at the top of the ‘to do’ list….
Dame Hackitt has avoided the pitfall of making specific recommendations for changing the standards set out in the Building Regulations – only to say they the guidance should be streamlined. Her holistic conclusions have allowed BRAC (or whoever replaces them) to focus on these areas piece by piece.
Joint Competent Authority (JCA)
The Review also raises concerns about the use of approved inspectors and self-certification schemes when dealing with a building as complex as a HRRB. It’s proposed the Local Authority Building Control (LABC) should join forces with the local fire safety authorities and the Health & Safety Executive to produce a Joint Competent Authority (JCA).
The groups making up the JCA would work together to give building sign-off, to complete regular safety checks, and could even have the power to enforce prohibition and stop notices against dutyholders if they feel work on site isn’t up to standard.
A single and streamlined route for building control may not make for comfortable reading to independent approved inspectors. However, the report suggests they can be used to expand LABC’s capacity, providing they stick to the same set of standards.
If these recommendations work their way into our Building Regulations, we’re going to see significant changes to how we build, maintain and renovate high rise buildings. Current processes will ultimately be easier to understand for all, with the industry given a greater say into how the regulations evolve in the future.
As with any independent review, all eyes now turn back to the Government to learn what’s going to happen next, how quickly it’s going to happen, and how different the final outcome is compared to Hackitt’s recommendations.