Association Briefing April 2018

AB Feb 17For those members who keep their copies of Building Engineer, if you look back to my first Association Briefing when I joined in 2011, I said:

‘We need to learn to balance understandable caution with a strong sense of long-term ambition and even optimism. We will have a more systematic, deeply integrated process to identify and remove excess cost. We then need to move on from cost cutting to ‘value creation’. A strong relationship with our members is the only way to build a successful professional body.’

Well, seven years on we have been through the cost cutting, we achieved our Royal Charter and have been awarded a Provisional Licence from the Engineering Council and, as promised by the Board, all Chartered Members have been given the choice to vote on whether we should become a Licensed Member of the Engineering Council, able to award Chartered Engineer (CEng) or not. The vote will take place this month and, if you did not go to the Regional presentation, I encourage you to see it on our website or webinar and then please vote.

So, referring back to my 2011 comments, we have now reached the point where CABE can move from cost cutting to ‘value creation’ and I know from my discussions with my successor, Dr Gavin Dunn, that he will ensure that this is achieved over the next few years.

Compared to many professional bodies we have great support from members who continue to develop our regional activity of CPD and now Regional Conferences both in the UK and around the world as our international membership continues to increase.

I would like to thank all members who contribute for their unstinting commitment in terms of both their time and their expertise. Without such volunteers the Association could not expect to deliver against its objectives or, indeed, fulfil its obligations. We punch above our weight but with the fantastic team at HQ supported by volunteers the Association can expect to continue raising standards, sharing knowledge and developing professionals for another 93 years.

I will continue to follow CABE’s progress and if, as a volunteer, I can help in any way, I would be proud to give my time to what I believe is one of the most forward-thinking Associations in the UK today.

I will be leaving CABE on 18 May but for the last few weeks will be supporting Gavin as he settles in, to finalise and deliver the business plan for the next five years. Please give him your full support as you have for me.

The current discussions are around Brexit and Grenfell, so here is an update.

Increasing productivity must be the top priority for construction as we lead up to Brexit and should be the sector’s number one priority in 2018 as the economic indicators point to a challenging year for Britain.

The OECD forecasts the UK’s GDP will grow by only one per cent in 2018. Construction, which accounts for around 6.7% of the UK economy and employs 2.9m people, has never been more critical to the UK’s fortunes.

Construction, however, has its own set of challenges, some as a consequence of Brexit, others due to its traditional business model and long-term lack of investment in skills, technology, systems and processes. The Office for National Statistics analysis shows over the three months from September to November 2017 construction output decreased by 2%.

Simon Cross, director of SiteSmart at BRE believes the construction industry has the potential to be 20-40% more efficient, which would significantly increase operating margins, provide R&D capital and develop sector resilience through a combination of policy levers and market forces.

As a response to the Grenfell disaster, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue has visited every high-rise block in the city as Manchester City Council called for a review of current guidance on fire safety in flats, saying current legislation is unclear about enforcement responsibilities. The decision to install sprinkler systems in 36 of its high rise tower blocks follows the completion of high-level Type 4 fire risk assessments to ensure the compartmentalisation of flats and contain fire within an individual dwelling.

The London Fire Brigade (LBF) has warned that there will be an increase in serious building fires unless the construction industry starts to take fire safety more seriously.

The LBF said that ‘responsibility for ensuring buildings are constructed with proper fire safety measures sits with the construction industry and yet a general lack of competence means that dangerous decisions are being made about buildings’ design or construction. Examples were given, including:
• significant construction defects such as flawed fire walls between flats which can allow fire and smoke to spread throughout buildings
• critical fire safety systems, such as mechanical smoke ventilation, were either not installed as per the original design, were poorly designed, or were not functional
• people in control of buildings did not understand or even know what fire safety measures were in place, let alone how best to maintain them.

Following the Grenfell Tower disaster there have been widespread calls to retrofit fire sprinkler systems in social housing. The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) supports this principle but cautions against a rush to install systems that do not meet British Standards. Such non-standard-compliant or innovative systems include ‘low-cost sprinkler protection’ where the sprinkler heads are fed directly from the property’s internal cold water distribution system, ‘pre-action’ or ‘double-knock’ sprinkler systems.

The interim report of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, established after 71 people lost their lives in the Grenfell fire, has indicated that the current regulatory system for ensuring fire safety in high rise and complex buildings is not fit for purpose. This applies throughout the life-cycle of a building, both during construction and occupation and is a problem connected to both the culture of the construction industry and the effectiveness of the regulators. The report said there is plenty of good practice but it is not difficult to see how those who are inclined to take shortcuts can do so. Change control and quality assurance are poor throughout the process and it is calling for a new ‘intelligent’ system of regulation and enforcement for high rise and complex buildings which will ‘hold to account those who try to cut corners’. Widespread cultural and behavioural change is also needed to put an end to ‘the mindset of doing things as cheaply as possible and passing on responsibility for problems to others’.

‘Changes to the regulatory regime will help, but on their own will not be sufficient unless we can change the culture away from one of doing the minimum required for compliance to one of taking ownership and responsibility for delivering a safe system throughout the life-cycle of a building.’

The interim report sets out broad areas for change:
• Ensuring that regulation and guidance is risk-based, proportionate and unambiguous
• Clarifying roles and responsibilities for ensuring that buildings are safe
• Improving levels of competency within the industry
• Improving the process, compliance and enforcement of regulations
• Creating a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ voices to be heard and listened to
• Improving testing, marketing and quality assurances of products used in construction.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s final report is expected later this year.

So, in closing, I wish all members a successful career and I look forward to the Association continuing with its development into the future.

John Hooper

Chief Executive