Opinion

Hackitt: Full implementation is not a quick fix

1 February 2019 | By Gavin Dunn

Key players in any new regulatory regime must not be conflicted about their responsibilities and roles and getting the implementation right will take time, argues Gavin Dunn.

Gavin Dunn

News that the government has pledged to implement the Hackitt Review of Building Regulations in full is welcome. While the implementation plan might in places appear light on detail, this should not necessarily be seen as a bad thing if it results in the right decisions being made to ensure delivery of the effective and sustainable regulatory framework that we all want in the longer term.

The review of fire safety requirements and guidance in the Building Regulations is ongoing, with the government continuing to respond to concerns on technical standards.

This is already leading to quite complex transitional arrangements for industry which need to be kept under review and which are indicative of future challenges in rolling out reform at a pace which balances political appetite, consumer demand and industry capability.

Clear roles and responsibilities

A key consideration in the ultimate design of the new building regulatory regime must be to ensure that it does not leave key players conflicted about their roles and responsibilities.

Regulators must also be able to enforce effectively wherever needed, while clients and their agents (designers, contractors, installers) must be in no doubt that responsibility rests with them and that safety is not “somebody else’s problem”.

It was recently reported that one of the Grenfell survivor groups has called for the new housing regulator to completely separate economic interests from enforcement of conduct. This is a simple principle that may indeed create the clarity of roles and consistency of compliance that is needed.

Certainly, central to all aspects of reform must be a genuine change in our industry culture, and we should welcome the principle of government’s (as-yet-unpublished) proposals for a Building Safety Charter, which I hope will be something that the industry as a whole can adopt from top to bottom.

This should provide persistent reinforcement of our individual and collective responsibility to the people who will occupy and live or work nearby to the buildings we design, construct or manage.

While some may take umbrage at being lectured on ethics, we need to accept that as memories fade, it will be all too easy to revert to old behaviours.

For decades our industry has been shaped by client demand for lowest price delivery above and beyond all other considerations. As a result, changing culture so that we think clearly about personal impacts first and foremost will take more than a simple acknowledgement today: it is something we need to hardwire into our daily working lives in the long term.

There needs to be a fundamental shift across industry, away from a focus on cut-throat competition to win work, to a focus on the surety of delivery and performance. After all, if we can move beyond the overly simplistic, lowest capital cost culture to one of best value, the opportunities (and economic benefits) to add value from quality design and construction go way beyond managing safety alone.

While the current proposals for regulatory reform are focused on high-risk residential buildings (HRRB), if that transformation in quality can be achieved for one part of the industry, then why not for the industry as a whole?

If the system is as broken as Dame Judith Hackitt states, then perhaps now is the time to look at how to fix some of the construction sector’s underlying problems in a more holistic sense.

As an industry we need to understand this isn’t a sprint to a quick fix – we may be looking at a decade or more of reform. That journey will be entirely worthwhile if in the end we are all working in a transformed industry that people can trust.

Gavin Dunn is chief executive of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE)

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