Ignorant, indifferent, inadequate – but no cladding ban from Hackitt review

Dame Judith Hackitt, Hackitt review, Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, Steve Martin, David Frise
Image of Glenfell Tower

Dame Judith Hackitt’s Final Report following the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety is scathing in its assessment of the construction industry.

The final report from Dame Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell fire enquiry into the building regulations and fire safety was published in May, and it makes uncomfortable reading for the construction industry. The report does not recommend a ban on certain types of building cladding, instead it focuses on systemic failures and improving enforcement.

Hackitt identifies four main problems endemic in the industry that not only led to the disaster at Grenfell, but which also leave other buildings and occupiers in danger: Ignorance of regulations; indifference to safety of residents; lack of clarity on responsibilities; and inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools.

She comments: “The above issues have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ caused either through ignorance, indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice. There is insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe and feel safe.”

The primary target of this report and its recommendations are new and existing highrise residential buildings (HRRBs) of 10 storeys or more. There are approximately 2,000 to 3,000 of these in the country. The report also makes clear that this 10 storey threshold also applies to a mixed use building if part of the building is residential.

David Frise, BESA

However, the report has other points to make about types of building. Firstly, Hackitt recommends that government should be able quickly to expand the buildings covered by recommendations in light of critical new information or experience of operating the new regime. The review also suggests that any multi-occupancy building where the Fire Safety Order already applies should be included, no matter what its size. Additionally, it looks to institutions and other buildings used as living accommodation where people sleep – hospitals, care homes, hotels, prisons, halls of residence, boarding schools (institutional residential buildings).

And some of the recommendations apply to all work of any scale (commercial, residential or otherwise). Hackitt is determined that there will be no ‘cliff edge’ on the requirements to reduce what the report refers to as ‘incentives for gaming’ the regulations.

Although the report does not ban any particular fire-safety related products, it does recommend more stringent testing and clarity on how products can (and cannot) be used. Hackitt recommends that desktop studies (assessments in lieu of tests) should be restricted ‘significantly’. And when it comes to testing, the report calls for: “The scope of testing; the application of products in systems and the resulting implications must be more clearly communicated in plain, consistent and non-technical language.”

Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government James Brokenshire MP responded to the Review on 17th May, saying: “The government supports the principles behind the report’s recommendations for a new system.”

He added that government will bring forward legislation that ‘delivers lasting change’ and a number of consultations are now underway. This includes a consultation on “significantly restricting or banning use of desktop studies to assess cladding systems”.

The Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) and the Fire and Security Association (FSA) issued a comment that they broadly agree with the report recommendations. ECA director of technical and head of FSA, Steve Martin commented: “ECA and FSA are pleased that the independent Hackitt Review broadly agreed with many of the recommendations we made during the consultation. We will continue to work closely with government and industry to achieve the broad aims of the review, and to deliver a holistic approach to fire safety training and education.”

Steve Martin, ECA/FSA

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) commented that Dame Judith Hackitt was right not to call for a ban on combustible building cladding materials.

The Association welcomed the findings of the independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety chaired by Dame Judith in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. It said the committee had made the right call by highlighting the sector’s issues rather than focusing on one specific technical aspect.

“The Review has identified systemic failings in the way construction projects are designed, delivered and managed,” said BESA chief executive David Frise. “We now need to move forward with building regulations that focus on the whole lifecycle of buildings and have a tighter focus on competence and compliance.

“Dame Judith’s team spotted right at the start that it was not the building regulations themselves, but how they were applied and enforced that allowed a culture to develop, which led to the Grenfell tragedy.

“Banning cladding would not move that issue forward – it was the way in which the refurbishment of the tower was managed and delivered, as a whole, that should face scrutiny.”

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