Hackitt Review: ‘need for a radical rethink’ on fire safety

Dame Judith Hackitt’s review into building safety released, but has been criticised for not going far enough to stop a tragedy like Grenfell from happening again.

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Dame Judith Hackitt has said in her review on building safety that “there is a need for a radical rethink of the whole system and how it works.”

Unveiling the report today, she has set out a host of recommendations, including an increased role for residents and a new framework.

The report sets out four key areas where the system failed on fire safety.

They are ignorance, indifference, lack of clarity and inadequate regulatory oversight.

The report states that regulations and guidance were “not always read by those who need to, and when they do the guidance is misunderstood and misinterpreted”.

Hackitt also sets out that “primary motivation” is do do things as quick and cheap as possible, ignoring resident concerns in the process.

There is also a big hit out at the regulator, where the report says “the size or complexity of a project does not seem to inform the way in which it is overseen by the regulator.

“Where enforcement is necessary, it is often not pursued. Where it is pursued, the penalties are so small as to be an ineffective deterrent.”

The report recommends:

  • A very clear model of risk ownership, overseen and held to account by a new Joint Competent Authority (JCA)
  • A new outcomes-based regulatory framework, that is simpler and more effective
  • Thinking of buildings as a system – not just one type of cladding
  • A risk-based approach to the level of regulatory oversight based on a clear risk matrix will be most effective in delivering safe building outcomes
  • Transparency of information and an audit trail all the way through the life cycle of a building from the planning stage to occupation and maintenance

Hackitt said: “This is most definitely not just a question of the specification of cladding systems, but of an industry that has not reflected and learned for itself, nor looked to other sectors.

“This does not mean that all buildings are unsafe. Interim mitigation and remediation measures have been put in place where necessary for existing high-rise residential buildings to assure residents of their safety regarding fire risk.

“It is essential that this industry now works to implement a truly robust and assured approach to building the increasingly complex structures in which people live.”

She added it is “important that government develops a joined-up implementation plan to provide a coherent approach to delivering the recommendations in this report”.

But Dame Hackitt’s review has been called out over the lack of banning combustible materials and the use of desktop studies.

Desktop studies have been contentious for a while, with the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee warning James Brokenshire on their use.

A cross-party group of MPs, led by David Lammy, also pushed on the issue.

There are concerns that desktop studies will lead to “weaker, less stringent regulatory regime and increases the likelihood of dangerous materials being used on high-rise residential buildings.”

The Local Government Association, who has been pushing hard on fire safety, said it was “good that Dame Judith’s report agrees that the current system is not fit for purpose and has set out a range of recommendations for its long-term reform.”

But Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, said that the report has not gone far enough, saying: “However, our immediate priority is to ensure that a fire like that at Grenfell never happens again, and to make certain the buildings which people live, visit and work in are safe today.

“It is therefore disappointing that Dame Judith has stopped short of recommending a ban on combustible materials and the use of desktop studies, both essential measures to improve safety.

“The government should nevertheless act without delay to introduce a temporary ban on the use of combustible materials on complex and high-rise buildings and until we have a regulatory and testing system which is fit for the 21st Century.

“As the use and misuse of desktop studies has been at the heart of the problem, the LGA also remains clear that the use of desktop studies that attempt to approve safety compliance must also be banned.

“This would provide the clarity for building owners who need to know what they can use to replace dangerous cladding and insulation and immediately help keep buildings safer.

“People need to be able to sleep safely at night in their homes. The tragedy at Grenfell Tower must never be allowed to happen again and councils are ready to play a leading role in making sure a new system of building regulation works.”

David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation says: “We welcome that the Hackitt Review has called for a root and branch reform of building safety regulations. There are a number of important recommendations for an overhaul in how we keep buildings safe.

“Government must now work swiftly and decisively to create a new, clear and entirely unambiguous system of regulation for high rise buildings.

“Ministers must inject urgency, capacity and, where necessary, funding to deliver lasting change in how we keep people safe in their homes”

Chartered Institute of Housing chief executive Terrie Alafat said: “The Hackitt Review rightly recommends a wholesale overhaul of the building regulations and fire safety system covering high-rise buildings. It is absolutely vital that we increase accountability for everyone involved in building and managing homes and make sure that residents have a stronger voice.

“It is now almost a year since the horrendous events at Grenfell Tower when 71 people lost their lives – we urge the government to consider the review’s recommendations carefully and act on them swiftly.

“Everyone who works in housing must reflect on the recommendations and we will be doing everything we can to make sure that our members understand the changes coming their way so they can put them into practice quickly and effectively.”

Clive Betts, HCLG Committee Chair, said: “While the Independent Review has come to many sensible conclusions, I strongly regret Dame Judith’s decision not to recommend an immediate ban on the use of combustible materials in the cladding of high-rise residential buildings.

“The approach she proposes places too much faith in the professional competence of a construction industry in which too many people have been inclined to take shortcuts and cut costs at the expense of the safety of residents.”

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “Today’s report is the culmination of a long and thorough review into the weaknesses of the current approach to competency and compliance in the sector, weaknesses which can serve to undermine safety.

“It is a suitably serious response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Dame Judith has understandably focused the attention of the review on high rise residential buildings, but we believe strongly that some of the recommendations must be taken as a blueprint for the wider industry.

“In particular, the industry as a whole needs to develop a comprehensive approach to competence. There is an opportunity here for the whole industry to step up and ensure we have adequate levels of competence across the sector.

“Without this, significant parts of our industry will continue to be plagued by incompetent and unprofessional outfits.

“Furthermore, a comprehensive competency framework should be underpinned by a licensing system for all builders and contractors operating in the construction industry.

“This is the only way we will ensure that a baseline for competence is both recognised and complied with. The FMB has already started a conversation about how we can put this into practice and is engaging with other industry bodies to this end.

“The FMB’s new Agenda, published last week, calls on the Government to introduce a licensing scheme for builders. We already know that nearly 80% of construction SMEs are in favour of introducing a licencing scheme.

“Licensing would remove the scourge of rogue and incompetent builders from the industry and in turn provide a much higher level of consumer protection.”

Labour London Assembly Spokesperson for Housing, Tom Copley AM, said: “Almost one year on from the tragic events at Grenfell, it was extremely disappointing to see the Hackitt Review fall completely short of any reasonable expectations. It is outrageous that there has not been a resolute call to ban dangerous flammable cladding from any future developments.

“What we have seen from the review is sentimentality and no substance- and the safety of thousands of Londoners continues to be put at stake.

“Yesterday, I was relieved to see the Government finally pledge to fully fund councils and housing associations to carry out the removal of dangerous cladding from 158 high-rise buildings. However, their dither and delay in arriving at this decision has put the safety of Londoners at risk and has, up until now, left cash-strapped local authorities forced to step-in.

“We now need to Government to clarify what support they will provide for private leaseholders who face uncertainty as to who pays for removal of cladding.

“Today, at Mayor’s Question Time, the Mayor expressed his surprise that the Hackitt Review failed to recommend a ban on the use of combustible cladding. I was glad to receive reassurances from Sadiq that while his powers are limited in this situation, he will do all that he can support Londoners who find themselves in unsafe buildings clad in combustible materials”.

Stuart Ropke, Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru said: “Tenant safety is paramount and the publication of today’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety provides a solid framework for housing associations and Welsh Government to continue working together to improve safety for people living in high rise buildings in Wales.

“We agree it’s vital the construction industry, building owners and managers are held accountable for ensuring that buildings are safe.

“We support the review’s focus on improving the overall systems for ensuring safety in high rise buildings in the long term. However, as a priority we believe where cladding, insulation or practices are shown to be unsafe on buildings above 18m, their further use should be prohibited.”

Navin Shah AM, London Assembly Member who authored a report into fire safety, said: “It’s very disappointing that this review of building and fire regulations has not recommended sprinklers or other similar systems to be made mandatory in all buildings above 18 metres.

“The Fire Commissioner said introducing sprinklers in this way is a “no-brainer”, so it’s deeply concerning that the Government continues to overlook the seriousness of this issue.

“The appalling tragedy of Grenfell must never happen again. This is a dangerous missed opportunity to ensure people can feel safe in their homes and I would urge a rapid rethink.”

Tamara Sandoul, Housing Policy Manager at CIEH, said: “We strongly welcome the final report and look to the Government to take action quickly in order to make high rise buildings safe places to live in and to reassure occupants that they are well protected from danger.

“First and foremost, all homes should be safe and healthy places to live and everyone needs to have confidence in the way in which their building is being managed.

“We are delighted that the final report acknowledges the need to tackle fire safety in other types of multi-occupied buildings – such as large houses badly converted into flats.

“We shouldn’t ignore issues with fire safety, whether the building is above or below 18 metres. We would like the Government to further clarify responsibility and enforcement of fire safety within these types of buildings.

“Considering the breadth of this report, we now call on the Government to set up the Joint Competent Authority as a priority so it can look in detail at vital issues such as cladding, sprinklers, and fire escapes.”

Andrew Lancaster, construction regulation expert at Anthony Collins Solicitors, said: “It is disappointing that the report fails to recommend that inflammable cladding materials must no longer be used on high rise residential blocks. This is something that could be implemented now, whereas a joined-up regulatory approach will take years to put in place.

“In addition, the report fails to acknowledge that more funding will inevitably be required to implement the recommendations and to avoid cutting corners on health and safety matters in the future.”

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