Scottish ministers to consider lessons from Hackitt review into fire safety
A review into UK building regulations in the wake of last year’s Grenfell Tower fire has highlighted the benefit of the pre-emptive system in Scotland, though ministers have vowed to ensure its recommendations are considered north of the Border.
Former Health & Safety Executive chair Dame Judith Hackitt was commissioned by UK ministers to review the current regime for building safety.
The final report into the independent review of building regulations and fire safety concluded that indifference and ignorance led a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices with cost prioritised over safety.
Setting out a series of proposals to make high-rise flats safer to live in in the wake of the June 14 disaster, she said there was a “systemic problem” and recommended the creation of a new regulator.
Some building firms use the ambiguity around the rules to “game the system”, with the primary motivation to “do things as quickly and cheaply as possible” rather than focusing on quality, Dame Judith said.
She also found ignorance about the rules, a lack of clarity about who takes responsibility and inadequate oversight.
“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 indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice,” she said.
The review recommended:
- An “outcomes-based approach” to the regulatory approach to be overseen by a new regulator.
- Clearer roles and responsibilities throughout the design and construction process, as well as during a building’s occupation.
- Residents to be consulted over decisions affecting the safety of their home.
- A more rigorous and transparent product testing regime.
- Industry to lead strengthening competence of those involved in building work and to establish an oversight body.
However the report has been criticised for stopping short of calling for an outright ban on the flammable cladding blamed for the spread of the fire.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) called for a ban on flammable cladding, a requirement for sprinklers to be fitted and a second means of escape for high-rise residential buildings.
But Dame Judith said prohibited certain practices would “not address the root causes” of the problems.
She added: “The debate continues to run about whether or not aluminium cladding is used for thermal insulation, weather-proofing or an internal part of the fabric, fire safety and integrity of the building.
“This illustrates the siloed thinking that is part of the problem we must address.”
Just hours after the report was published, the UK government said it would consult on banning inflammable cladding on high-rise buildings.
Announcing the consultation, housing secretary James Brokenshire said: “It has been deeply moving to hear directly from the Grenfell Tower survivors and community in my first few weeks as Secretary of State. This was a terrible tragedy that should never have happened. I welcome Dame Judith Hackitt’s comprehensive report and her calls for fundamental reform in the building sector. I am committed to making that happen as quickly as possible.
“The cladding believed to be on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations. It should not have been used. I will ensure there is no room for doubt over what materials can be used safely.
“Having listened carefully to concerns, I will consult on banning the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings.
“We must ensure the tragedy at Grenfell brings change and I call on the industry to work with me to achieve the urgent reform needed.”
Scotland’s minister for local government, Kevin Stewart, said the Scottish Government welcomes the report and will look closely at the findings to ensure that any lessons or actions that may be needed are swiftly considered in Scotland.
He added: “We are particularly pleased the report recognises the benefit of the pre-emptive system in Scotland and has recommended a similar system of ‘gateway points’ to be passed before construction can begin, along with how we engage with tenants.
“Two current reviews of the building standards system are considering changes may be required and are due to report to ministers shortly. The recommendations from these reviews will ensure that Scotland’s system remains robust, clear and that the systemic failures that contributed to the terrible Grenfell fire can never happen here in Scotland.
“The recommendations regarding building industry products and the system of accreditation which is shared across the UK are also welcome and we will actively engage with the UK and other devolved administrations on this issue.”
The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) said the review provides a blueprint for ensuring competence in construction which should be extended across the industry.
Chief executive Brian Berry 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.”
Berry added: “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.”
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.”