The regulatory systems for designing, constructing and managing high rise buildings are “not fit for purpose”, a damning report into fire safety commissioned after the Grenfell Tower tragedy has said.
Leader of the review Dame Judith Hackitt, who is EEF chairwoman and former chairwoman of the Health and Safety Executive, said she was “shocked by some of the practices” and said a new regulation system and way to hold to account those who try to cut corners is needed.
Construction and engineering sectors were called on to give evidence to the review. Two roundtable meetings were held with residents of high-rise buildings, however survivors of Grenfell were not specifically invited to attend, Hackitt admitted. The interim findings of the review has been published, with the final version being published in spring 2018.
Industry figures welcomed the findings of the review. Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry praised the “swiftness” of its delivery and deputy chief executive and policy director of the Construction Products Association Peter Caplehorn said “we are right to look at the current system… and ask if it is fit for purpose”.
However, giving evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee on Monday, Hackitt said there is “no reason at all why people should be waiting” for further advice on what to do if they are considering replacing cladding.
Current regulations and guidance are too “complex and unclear”, sanctions processes “too weak”, and there is a “lack of robust change control”, the report said.
Hackitt said: “I have found that the regulatory system for safely designing, construction and managing buildings is not fit for purpose.”
A trend for design and build contracts was identified as being “particularly problematic” in facilitating evolutionary design that is not properly documented or reviewed. The report also claimed that value engineering is “almost always about cutting cost out of a project” at times without reference to specification requirements.
The review also found that competence levels in the industry must be improved, and that there is a lack of clarity in who is ultimately responsible for fire safety.
Hackitt told the committee: “I’ve still to find someone that can point and say that’s the person doing the work, and that’s a person that gets referred to a lot in the regulations and the guidance, because at any given time that could be anybody.”
In evidence given to the report, the Construction Industry Council said: “There are elements of legislation that attempt to define responsible individuals, but even these do not provide clear answers. The lack of clarity is demonstrated by the primary duty of the Building Act, which applies to ‘the person carrying out the work’. This is fundamental to compliance with Building Regulations, but who is that?”
Hackitt was appointed to lead the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety following the blaze that killed 71 people in June this year. The investigation was called for after the cladding on the west London 24-storey block was suspected to be a factor in how the fire spread so rapidly. Subsequent tests on buildings around the country revealed widespread use of aluminium composite materials which did not meet the limited combustibility requirements.
The final Building Regulations Review will be published in spring next year. A public inquiry and criminal investigation into the disaster are taking place separately.