Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety – Final Report

Mitch Gee, Executive Chairman

The much-anticipated Independent Review of the Building Regulations was published last week. I have yet to read the full report but will endeavour to do so over the coming weeks and submit a fuller response to its contents.

Since her interim report in December, Dame Judith Hackitt has unearthed further evidence that the regulatory system for high rise is not fit for purpose. It does not just relate to cladding systems but for the industry as a whole.

The report was damning of the industry listing key issues for its failure:

  • Ignorance
  • Indifference
  • Lack of clarity and responsibility
  • Inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools

She states there needs to be a clear model of risk ownership with clear responsibilities for the client designer, contractor and owner. It must be ‘outcomes-based’ rather than based on prescriptive rules and complex guidance with serious consequences for those who try to ‘game the system’. The model is dependent on competent people thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for their decisions. This is a breath of fresh air in our ‘tick box’ society where we are guilty of hiding behind guidelines that are at best confusing and at worst contradictory.

The report states the building must be considered as a system and not just a collection of products stitched together. Transparency of information and an audit trail. I am amazed in my own experience, how poor many of the archives are for construction projects. In an era of digital technology, one would expect the opposite, but contractors appear to invest very little in keeping good ordered records.

The report calls for systematic change which will require legislative change and it should not only consider new buildings, but look at our existing housing stock.

One has to compliment Dame Judith Hackitt on her ability to grasp the weaknesses in the current systems and culture of the building industry that results in ‘a race to the bottom’ for the construction and refurbishment of housing. We live in a tick-box culture that invades our society, the construction industry being no different in this regard. Dame Judith appreciates that there needs to be a shift change in this culture. It’s a big ask – can it be achieved?

Dame Judith, an Engineer by profession provides a pragmatic rational approach to solving some of the systemic failings in the system which ultimately resulted in the tragedy of Grenfell. She proposes to do this without restricting the industry to a limited range of products it can use on high rise cladding. As an industry we wish to build exciting, varied buildings, cost effectively and without compromising on safety. The report’s proposals should allow us to do that.

The politically more palatable solution however, is to only use non-combustible products over 18m. This may result in unnecessarily limiting the options for exciting design for architects, creating capacity issues and resultant inflation in the supply chain. We are already seeing price rises well above inflation in the supply of some non-combustible elements of high rise cladding. This will not solve the systemic problems that Dame Judith Hackitt has identified and most of us agree exist.

We wait therefore as the government consults on whether to ban everything but non combustible materials on high rise buildings.

It would be great to get feedback from the membership before we formulate INCA’s official position.