Independent review calls for ‘overhaul’ in safety

Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim review into building safety in the aftermath of Grenfell has called for strong action.

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Dame Hackitt has urged the construction industry and government to put safety above cutting costs.

The interim report finds that:

  • A culture change is required, with industry taking greater responsibility for what is built
  • The current system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise buildings is not fit for purpose
  • A clear, quick and effective route for residents to raise concerns and be listened to, must be created.

The report also calls for simplifying regulations and an end to getting materials cheaply.

Speaking earlier, Dame Hackitt said: “When regulations are complex it makes it quite difficult for people to penetrate that complexity to truly understand what they are required to do.

“There are issues of competence to be addressed as part of this.

“The regulations themselves are pretty simple but what sits below the building regulations is a whole series of guidance documents which stacked on top of one another would be about 2ft high … There is clearly an opportunity to make that much simpler and to guide people to the right answer.”

She said the next phase would examine issues such as sprinklers, cladding, alarm systems and escape routes.

Writing in the report, she 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. What is initially designed is not what is being built, and quality assurance of materials and people is seriously lacking.”

“I have found that the regulatory system for safely designing, constructing and managing buildings is not fit for purpose. The current system is highly complex and there is confusion about the roles and responsibilities at each stage. In many areas there is a lack of competence and accreditation.

“While this does not mean all buildings are unsafe, it does mean we need to build a more effective system for the future. That is why I am today calling for the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government to come together to identify how to overcome these shortcomings together.”

She said: “I’ve talked to over 300 people. Overwhelmingly the view that has been expressed to me is that this system needs improving, and it needs greater clarity, and I’m hopeful that’s what I’m going to bring to the system.

“The quicker we can get some [improvements] in place, the sooner we can build that level of reassurance that residents of high-rise buildings absolutely deserve.”

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation says: “We welcome this vital review. It is of course concerning that Dame Judith has found the whole system of regulation is not fit for purpose but her analysis seems clear and sensible.

“Meaningful action must now be taken by everyone involved in construction and the management of buildings to radically improve the regulatory system.

“This includes the establishment of clear lines of responsibility, so that in the long-term people will be safer. We’re also pleased she has acknowledged the amount of interim work that has been done in the immediate aftermath of Grenfell Tower fire to ensure tower blocks are safe for residents today.

“We will actively engage with the next phase of the review, working closely with our members, government, local authorities and other stakeholders.”

Lord Porter, Local Government Association chairman said: “Today’s interim report reinforces our warnings about the complexity and confusion in the current system of ensuring buildings are safe, so tragically exposed by the Grenfell Tower fire.

“The government needs to endorse the report’s findings without delay and work with councils and the industry to take the process of reform forward in the way Dame Judith has set out.

“This will obviously need to include rewriting the documents relating to the installation of cladding and insulation on external walls of buildings so they are easier to understand and comply with.

“What happened at Grenfell Tower can never be allowed to happen again and no one should have to live in fear about their safety, be that in the buildings they live in, work in or visit.

“It is clear that all types of landlords also need urgent clarity about how they should be replacing materials on their high-rise blocks affected by fire safety test fails while we have raised wider concerns about the general safety of other clad buildings.

“Councils have acted quickly to put in safety measures in their high-rise blocks to reassure residents. With the majority of high-rise buildings affected by fire safety test fails owned by private landlords, councils continue to work hard to support building owners in their area to deal with the issue and to try and confirm with the owners of thousands of private high rise residential buildings to identify the cladding and insulation systems on those blocks.

“While councils will continue to get on with what they need to do and are ready to play a leading role in making sure a new system of building regulation works, significant funding concerns remain.

“The government needs to meet the unexpected exceptional costs for councils arising from conducting fire safety and major remedial work and for any essential fire and safety measures needed.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “We welcome the interim findings of the Hackitt Review which make clear that there is much for the construction industry and its regulators to address post-Grenfell.

“The FMB submitted a detailed response to the review and many of our points have been reflected in its initial findings. In particular, we welcome the acknowledgement that although some safety-critical tradespeople, for example gas engineers, must be registered for different types of work, others do not have such requirements.

“We are also pleased that the review has recognised that current building regulations and guidance are too complex and unclear. We look forward to working with the government and our industry colleagues to address the areas of failure so such an incident is never allowed to happen again.”

Berry concluded: “I’d also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Dame Judith Hackitt and the wider review team for the swiftness with which this probing and insightful interim report has been delivered.

“It’s too often the case that such consultations and inquiries drag on when swift action is required. Here the Hackitt Review has managed to get the balance right by consulting with a broad range of people and organisations but then taking speedy action to reflect and report back.

“We hope the review team maintains this momentum so we can achieve a safer built environment, and one that always adheres to the highest of standards, as soon as possible.”

Wera Hobhouse MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for communities and local government, commented: “This report exposes serious failings by the government.

“Safety rules have not been properly enforced and the organisations that provide housing have not been held to account.

“Thousands of families across the country continue to live in unsafe accommodation.

“We need swift action to put the situation right before another tragedy occurs.

“That should include tougher enforcement of the rules and more funding for safety improvements.”

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