Hackitt slams 'race to bottom' on building safety
The final report from Dame Judith Hackitt's independent review into Building Regulations and fire safety has uncovered further "deep flaws" in the current system, and recommended a "radical rethink" including a new body to regulate the construction industry.
Perhaps surprisingly, she did not recommend a ban on flammable cladding, despite calls from some architects, construction firms and Grenfell survivors. 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."
Examining the circumstances that led to the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 71 people died, Hackitt identified ignorance of regulations and guidance, a motivation to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible, lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities, and inadequate regulation as the key issues.
She warned that those factors had combined to create a culture issue across the sector, which she described as a "race to the bottom".
"There is insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe and feel safe," she said.
"We need to adopt a very different approach to the regulatory framework covering the design, construction and maintenance of high-rise residential buildings which recognises that they are complex systems where the actions of many different people can compromise the integrity of that system."
The report's key recommendations are:
- A "very clear" model of risk ownership, with clear responsibilities for the client, designer, contractor and owner, overseen by a new Joint Competent Authority (JCA);
- A new, outcomes-based regulatory framework that has "real teeth" so that it can drive the right behaviours and serious penalties for those who "choose to game the system";
- Thinking about buildings as a system so that the different layers of protection required can be considered; and
- 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 the construction industry "stands out" from every other sector she has looked at "in its slow adoption of traceability and quality assurance techniques".
"These are widespread elsewhere and the technology is readily available," she said.
She warned that legislation would be required to implement the "systemic changes" that she has recommended and that it would therefore take time.
She also said there was a "moral obligation" to apply the principles set out in her report to the existing stock of complex high-rise residential buildings, as well as new builds that would take time as well as having a cost attached to it.
However, it was "beyond the scope" of the report to determine how remedial work would be funded.
And she emphasised the need for a continued spirit of collaboration and partnership in a sector that is "excessively fragmented".
- A new regulatory framework focused in the first instance on residential buildings more than 10 storeys in height;
- A new Joint Competent Authority, comprising Local Authority Building Standards, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive to oversee better management of safety risks in these buildings across their entire life cycle;
- A mandatory incident reporting mechanism for dutyholders with concerns about the safety of higher risk residential buildings (HRRBs).
Building safety during design, construction and refurbishment
- A set of 'rigorous and demanding' dutyholder roles and responsibilities to ensure a stronger focus on building safety, broadly aligned with those set out in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015;
- A series of robust gateway points to strengthen regulatory oversight that will require dutyholders to show to the JCA that their plans are detailed and robust; that their understanding and management of building safety is appropriate; and that they can properly account for the safety of the completed building;
- A stronger change control process that will require robust record-keeping by the dutyholder of all changes made to the detailed plans previously signed off by the JCA;
- A single, more streamlined, regulatory route to oversee building standards as part of the JCA;
- More rigorous enforcement powers. A wider and more flexible range of powers will be created to focus incentives on the creation of reliably safe buildings from the outset.
Building safety during occupation
- A clear and identifiable dutyholder with responsibility for building safety of the whole building;
- A requirement on the dutyholder to present a safety case to the JCA at regular intervals;
- Clearer rights and obligations for residents to maintain the fire safety of individual dwellings;
- A regulator for the whole of the building (the JCA) in relation to fire and structural safety in occupation;
- Giving residents a voice in the system.
Improved levels of competence
- The construction sector and fire safety sector demonstrating more effective leadership for ensuring building safety amongst key roles including an overarching body to provide oversight of competence requirements;
- Moving towards a system where ownership of technical guidance rests with industry as the intelligent lead in delivering building safety and providing it with the flexibility to ensure that guidance keeps pace with changing practices;
- A package of regulations and guidance that is simpler to navigate but that genuinely reflects the level of complexity of the building work.
Construction products regime
- A more effective testing regime for construction products, with clearer labelling and product traceability;
- Creating a 'golden thread' of information about each HRRB (set out in Chapter 8) by obligating the creation of a digital record for new HRRBs from initial design intent through to construction;
- Tackling poor procurement practices.
Hackitt's report added that while the recommendations in the report relate predominantly to HRRBs, "the review believes that there would be merit in certain aspects of the new regulatory framework applying to a wider set of buildings".