Hackitt: ‘People are still playing games with the system’

The Chair of the Independent Review of Fire Safety and Building Regulations has called on the sector to step up over building safety.

Dame Judith Hackitt

Dame Judith Hackitt has hit out at those who are not taking steps to improve fire safety.

Speaking at the NBS’ Construction Product Leaders Summit, she reflected on the current situation.

“Everyone tells me we have learned the lessons of Grenfell. We are coming up to three years… Have the new builds been done up to better standards?

“Have the refurbished blocks been to the same standards? Tell that to the students in Bolton.

“People are still playing games with the system.”

She added: “There is a lack of leadership, drive and collective effort to make these changes happen.

“It seems to me that the sector is waiting to be told by the regulator about what to do. I don’t understand why. I think it is folly to wait to be told.

“Why wouldn’t you change as soon as you can and right those sins of the past, rather than waiting for the regulator to tell you?”

She also issued a further warning, saying that the market was “starting to react” pointing toward £0 valuations on homes with cladding on and insurance companies becoming more risk adverse.

Looking back at some of the themes she found while undertaking the review, Hackitt said: “The current regulatory system is too prescriptive, people play games with the rules and there is lack of clarity about who should do what.

“Everyone in the system has played a part in the decay of the system. But I do not blame one party more than the others.

“The current system is set up in a way that allows people to get around it. It is too complex. We need to have a more simple system.”

She also called some of the change management and processes in the sector “gobsmacking”.

She added: “When you ask experts if they can fight a fire in a building if you build in a particular way… You don’t ignore that advice. You don’t build it.

“When residents complain that they don’t feel safe in their homes, you don’t ignore it. You have to act on it.”

Taking aim at the current regulatory system, she branded it “too prescriptive” and said that “people play games with the rules and there is lack of clarity about who should do what”.

But she set out her ideas on what makes a good regulatory system.

“What makes a good regulatory system is one that drives the right behaviours. It is about much more than what is written down.

“There needs to be clarity on roles and responsibilities so people cannot point the finger.”

Calling on the sector to “get ready” for the changes in regulation, Hackitt gave the sector a hint at what is to come.

“This is not just about a new regulatory body. It is about learning and not waiting for regulation to be in place.

“The new regulator will not simply look to see you have complied with the rules. It will look at if you have really built buildings that are safe.”

The former engineer also called for a “culture change”, adding that the sector needs to “care about the buildings that you are in the supply chain for and the residents that live in them.”

Giving some final advice to the sector, Hackitt said: “There will be a requirement to check old buildings. Holding your hands up and saying you don’t know what is in or on that building is simply not good enough.

“To learn the lessons from past takes humility. While you’re making excuses for the past, you are denying your role in the supply chain.

“Your value comes from delivering quality, not about what costs the least to put on the building.

“If you truly care about the quality of what you do, you won’t stop at buildings of 18m, you will change your practices for good and forever.”

Responding to Hackitt’s address at the Summit, Peter Jackson, MD at Jacksons Fencing said: “Current systems and standards allow for shortcuts and cost reductions at the expense of quality and at risk to both the end user and the reputation of regulation compliant manufacturers.

“Until robust sanctions are put in place for those not following stringent product testing, employing standardised systems or offering clear product information, there is little incentive to step up.

“I hope Dame Judith Hackitt’s call to action will help provide the impetus needed to effect real and lasting change for the better.”

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