Building safety, flammable cladding, and the Hackitt report


Author: Ian Smith


Ian Smith, Associate, Fladgate LLP (ismith@fladgate.com)


 

The fire at Grenfell Tower that took place in June 2017 resulted in 71 deaths and a large number of further injuries. Following the fire a number of inquiries and reviews were set up, including an independent review of fire safety and the current Building Regulations. This review was led by Dame Judith Hackitt and the final report was published on 17 May 2018.

The final report elaborates on the interim report’s conclusion that the current regulatory system covering high-rise and complex buildings is not fit for purpose. The report states that ignorance, indifference, lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities, and inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools have created a cultural issue across the building sector, “which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ and that there is “insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe”.

The report recommends principles for a new regulatory framework to drive real culture change and correct behaviours that recognise high-rise residential buildings are “complex systems where the actions of many different people can compromise the integrity of that system”. It recommends:

  • a risk-based approach to the level of regulatory oversight should be implemented so that complex multi-occupancy residential buildings must be subject to a higher level of regulatory oversight proportionate to the number of people potentially put at risk;
  • the need for transparency of information and an audit trail throughout a building’s life cycle, known as the “Golden Thread” of information, specifically a network of information for each building containing details about the structure and materials, maintenance, testing and inspection routines, how fire risk assessments have been undertaken and any actions implemented;
  • a very clear model of risk ownership, with clear responsibilities for parties, overseen and held to account by a new Joint Competent Authority;
  • any new regulatory framework must be simpler and more effective and outcomes-based,  with real incentives and penalties; and
  • buildings should be viewed as a system to consider different protections that may be required to make buildings safe on a case-by-case basis.

The Government has committed to implementing the report, though has not set out a strict timetable, or confirmed which proposals in the report will be brought into effect. Implementation of the proposals will likely result in major challenges, especially in bringing about a cultural shift that must take lifetime safety of building design into account. Operators of existing buildings will, for the time being at least, continue to face uncertainty as to what obligations will apply and need to be implemented in those buildings, how much time will be permitted for compliance and what the cost of compliance will be.

With fire safety a concern on numerous buildings across the country, the Hackitt report offers some guidance on what the future of the building safety regulations may look like. Other inquiries are ongoing, however, and the situation with building owners and occupiers alike is still far from clear. Future reports, cases, consultations, and laws will continue to develop the picture.

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