Opinion: Hackitt review raises some complex questions
The industry is waiting to see how far-reaching the Hackitt review will be – but the end decision may be a political one, writes Chris Blythe.
From the end of May, a new term will enter the construction lexicon: a “Hackitt building” – a high-rise or complex building which falls under the scope of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety being led by Dame Judith Hackitt.
It is not difficult to understand what a high-rise building is – but it is a bit more difficult to be clear about the definition of complex.
It might refer to where people live or sleep, it might also refer to the potential for a large loss of life in an incident. It might also refer to the characteristics of the occupants. Or it could be all three.
Does a structure have to be high-rise to be complex? I don’t think so. A complex building could be a two-storey dependency nursing or care home. A fire at night would be a difficult and challenging prospect.
The recent fire at a shopping centre in Russia with over 60 fatalities might also lean toward thinking that this type of building might also be considered complex.
Behind the front door
In residential, the variable is the occupant. There is no accounting for what goes on behind the front door – as people who have carried our residential refurbs will testify.
A couple of years ago while attending a company’s building division annual conference, it was explained by one region that on a council block refurbishment the workers came across someone keeping a horse in a sixth floor flat.
Mixed occupancy is another factor which adds complexity. A combination of tenants, shared ownership and outright ownership in one building is difficult to manage compared to a 100%-owned block.
Whether there is a future for mixed occupancy post-Hackitt, with the prospect of some enhanced supervision, intrusion or intervention – depending on your perspective – is a bit early to say. But the issue of who pays for things like cladding replacement has raised some interesting questions, especially for those who acquired their flats through Right To Buy.
Potentially complex buildings
Other potentially complex buildings could include hotels: people sleep there, there is a high turnover of them – and who really reads the evacuation instructions on the back of the door? The more you think about it, the more the list of Hackitt buildings could expand, and it will be interesting to see what the definition of complex becomes.
In matters such as this, the final decision invariably ends up being political – for better or for worse. The persistent refrain from the industry is usually “the government must…”. Well, it might just be that this time the government will. The question is: can the industry can hack it?