Opinion

Opinion: Hackitt review raises some complex questions

30 April 2018 | By Chris Blythe

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.

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?

Comments

Just a thought, but I'm out in Sri Lanka working on a project where the fundamental premise is the project we are working on (800 bed hotel, ofice tower and 2 residential towers) will be constructed to 'British Standards'.

5,500 miles away from the UK, and I'm watching the outcome of the Hackitt enquiry as much as I can, not least the awful reality that much of the Grenfell fire outcome was down to the complex interaction of various factors, all of which combined to lead to disaster.

I'm now making comments on contractors shop drawings with the knowledge the contractor can make mistakes as it suits them, but I can't, and I can't accept that the contractor can. Commercial realities be damned.

The Government needs to realise though, how they deal with this can't be just some expediency to get over the current issue, it needs a serious long term approach, as given the international aspects of construction knowledge, regulation etc., it isn't just the UK that stands to gain (or lose) if it gets the model to follow wrong.

John, 3 May 2018

Sometimes "complex" and "complicated" can appear to be interchangeable but each has subtlties. Complex means many parts whereas complicated means difficult to unravel. Both can apply to a building but it requires product knowledge to manage both aspects. Unfortunately in today's industry management training is all about process and product knowledge is left to an itinerant workforce.

M.A. Underwood, 3 May 2018

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