Vice President's Page February 2019

Vice President's Page February 2019 Image

I’m never too sure of the etiquette as to when you really should stop saying ‘Happy New Year’ to people, but given this is my first VP column of 2019 – Happy New Year to you all.

It’s fair to say that 2018 was probably one of, if not ‘the’ busiest of my 30 years in our industry. Not just because of my very busy day job at BSI but also because of everything else that has been going on; the continued activity that surrounds the Grenfell tragedy; the uncertainty that is Brexit and what it will, or will not, eventually mean for the UK; and, the fact that I started a major refurbishment of our family home.  I can’t therefore see 2019 being any quieter.

So what’s going to keep us and our Association busy then?

Grenfell

Let’s be quite clear those horrific scenes that we all witnessed on that fateful morning of 14 June 2017 will change our industry forever and deservedly so. We continue to see various activities undertaken in response to the tragedy, including the relevant parts of the industry coming together with the professional institutions, including ourselves, under the auspices of the Construction Industry Council to see how we can best improve the competences for those working on the design, construction and operation of buildings. A hugely important and sizable activity but one we will need to achieve and embed in all that we do as we move towards the 2nd anniversary of Grenfell. 

Of course the government continues its activity in this area apace too. On 18 December the Secretary of State at MHCLG, James Brokenshire, announced that the government would be ‘creating a stronger and more effective regulatory framework to improve building safety’.

He went on to suggest that this will include tougher sanctions for those who disregard residents’ safety, more rigorous standards and guidance for those undertaking building work, and a stronger voice for residents.

The plans that he set out before Christmas went on to explain how the government will implement the recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt in her review of building regulations and fire safety published following the Grenfell Tower fire.

The government’s ‘Building a Safer Future: an implementation plan’ which they published in support of the statement commits the government to a programme of reform over the coming years which will:

  • Take forward all of the recommendations in the Hackitt review
  • Create a more effective regulatory and accountability framework to provide greater oversight of the industry
  • Introduce clearer standards and guidance, including establishing a new Standards Committee to advise on construction product and system standards and regulations
  • Put residents at the heart of the new system of building safety, empowering them with more effective routes for engagement and redress
  • Help to create a culture change and a more responsible building industry, from design, through to construction and management

The government also proposes to establish the Joint Regulators’ Group to trial elements of a new regulatory system ahead of any new proposed legislation. The group will bring existing regulatory bodies together to work with developers and building owners, as well as seeking input from residents and tenants, to develop and test new approaches that may later feature in legislation.

In addition to setting out its plans to implement the changes called for by Dame Judith Hackitt, a full review of the fire safety guidance that supports the building regulations, i.e. Approved Document B, has also been launched. The government has issued a ‘call for evidence’ that will gather expert advice on the full range of fire safety issues to enable the guidance to be revised. Please do take the time to have a good look through the government’s implementation plan for whatever your role is, it’s going to affect you. Find out more here.

Brexit and the impact on construction products

Our Industry is worth around £130 bn a year, amounting to c6% of our national economy.  Of that, one of its largest components, pardon the pun, is made up of the construction products sector. And that’s a matter that I get heavily involved with from a Standards perspective.

The Construction Products Regulation (CPR) seeks to remove technical barriers to the trade of construction products in the European single market. It places obligations on manufacturers, distributors and importers of construction products when these products are placed on the market and allows for their CE Marking.

On the same day it announced its next steps on Grenfell, 18 December, the government also laid a statutory instrument to ensure a functioning CPR regime when the UK leaves the European Union. These changes are necessary to reflect that the UK will no longer be an EU member state from 29 March 2019. These arrangements will however only apply in the event that the UK exits the European Union without a deal in March 2019.

The UK regime will maintain the requirement on manufacturers to declare the performance of their construction product, in accordance with product standards, when the product is placed on the UK market. The key elements of this legislation are as follows:

  • Construction products already placed on the market will be able to continue to circulate in the UK.
  • Existing European harmonised standards will become UK ‘designated standards’. This will mean that immediately following exit day the UK and EU standards will be the same. Thereafter, new UK standards will be designated by the Secretary of State.
  • Where a UK body has undertaken the third-party conformity assessment processes required under the UK ‘designated standard’, the manufacturer must affix a new UK mark. Further, construction products that meet the harmonised European standard and are affixed with a ‘CE’ mark, can continue to be placed on the UK market without the need for re-testing or additional marking. This approach is intended to minimise disruption in the availability of goods on the UK market. The intention is that these arrangements will be for a time-limited period, and businesses will be given sufficient notice in advance of this period coming to an end.
  • Where the product marking is affixed on the basis of self-declaration, then during the time-limited period the manufacturer will have the choice to use either the UK or CE mark (or both).
  • For products that are not fully covered by a designated standard, there will be an optional route available to enable products to be UK marked.

I’m currently sat writing this VP article on the morning before our Parliament votes on the Brexit deal that the Prime Minister has laid before the House. It’s going to be an interesting day but if at the end of this part of our BREXIT journey we do end up without a deal it could have a hugely profound impact upon the way construction products are tested, labelled and ultimately placed on our market in the future. Watch this space, as no doubt I will have more to share with you in the coming months. 

Right, that’s it from me for now. I’m just about to sit down with Mrs B to sort out diary dates for the rest of the year, including me getting out and about an awful lot more, meeting our all-important CABE Regions, where so much amazing work is undertaken. This year it’s my privilege to become the new president of CABE, but I really don’t know how I’m going to follow in the footsteps of our current and very impressive two-term President, David Taylor. Only time will tell.

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