As this edition of Building Engineer goes to press we are all starting to come to terms with the final report from Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. It is hard to overstate the likely ramifications of the review for the construction sector, and in particular the importance of its recommendations which suggest significant change for CABE members who are at the front line of construction projects across the UK and beyond.
Cultural change will underpin what happens next
I am sure that Dame Judith’s initial finding that ‘the system was not fit for purpose’ will have resonated with many who feel let down by the competency and diligence of the construction industry as a whole, not least amongst tenants and clients who have relied on construction professionals or contracting organisations and have found themselves exposed to unexpected risk.
It is vitally important to reflect on just how fundamental this loss of confidence has been and for every CABE Member to personally commit to rebuilding trust in every aspect of their professional life. That will inevitably mean hard work and CABE will be engaging across industry and with government to support our members as the review recommendations are taken forward over the coming months and years.
The final report builds on Dame Judith’s previous assertion that addressing the many problems within the construction and Built Environment sector will involve a major change in culture as well as structural reform. I hope that I speak for every CABE member when I say that we must embrace change wherever it is necessary to ensure that terrible events such as those at Grenfell Tower can never happen again.
Major structural change
The final report makes 55 specific recommendations across ten chapters. The most significant changes include:
• A revised regulatory framework focusing on outcomes, with industry leading on the development of detailed guidance
• A CDM style regime allocating clearly defined responsibilities to Clients, designers and contractors
• The introduction of a new industry regulator in the form of the Joint Competency Authority (JCA) consisting of a collaborative framework involving Local Authority Building Standards (previously Local Authority Building Control), HSE and the Fire and Rescue Service with responsibility for enforcement, compliance checking, ongoing inspection and maintenance as well as oversight of guidance, market intelligence, and
• A redefined role for Approved Inspectors as advisers to clients on High Risk Residential Buildings (HRRBs) and to provide support to Local Authority Building Standards bodies
• A drive to improve competency across the construction sector, including building control inspectors and in particular those working on high risk Residential Buildings
• A need for client reform of procurement practice to give greater priority to safety outcomes.
There is a huge amount of detail to be worked through, and over the coming months we will expect to see much greater clarity from Government about what the review means in practice and how it will be implemented. For many CABE members this will be a time of great concern given the extent to which structural reform may impact on their lives and business.
As your Association we will be working to ensure that you get the information you need as soon as it is available, to understand your views, concerns and ideas for positive change and making representations on your behalf. This will be a marathon effort with reform likely to take place over many years.
I have every confidence that the passionate and committed building professionals who make up our membership will rise to the challenge. We all have a vested interest in being part of a better industry and we should be positive about the future, albeit clear sighted, honest and eloquent as to what will and will not work.
But to make these changes really work, we need to help to establish the right conditions. As Dame Judith recognises in her report, clients need to undertake fundamental reform in the way they specify, procure and view the construction and maintenance process for the buildings they own – a continued and relentless focus on the bottom line without investing in the ability to act as informed and intelligent clients will inevitably drive risk back into the construction process over time.
This includes changing their relationship with the buildings that underpin their business so that tenant safety and welfare take a higher priority and are properly funded, and maintenance is viewed as a valuable investment in their built assets rather than a liability to be avoided. That will mean higher costs to some degree, but if Grenfell has taught us anything, it must be that the alternatives are totally unacceptable.
Government also needs to extend its consideration to all of the other important aspects of building work covered by the regulations, not only those relating to fire safety which also need to be regularly reviewed and updated in a comprehensive manner. Accessibility, public health and welfare may not be fashionable or trendy but like so many other aspects of the Regulations relating to life safety these requirements have continued to play an important part in safeguarding people in their homes and business. Maintaining those protections should not be taken for granted and the necessary resourcing and priority needed to sustain the currency of these measures must also feature as the overall system continues to change.
With the right framework in place professionals will be able to deliver more readily against government ambitions in helping create the safe built environment we all value so highly. Only by ensuring that there is comprehensive and effective change will we avoid finding ourselves once again dealing with a tragic building failure that should be avoided.
Richard Harral BArch Dip Hon RIBA