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Building Safety Regulatory System

The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, undertaken by Dame Judith Hackitt, was published on 17 May 2018. There was also a ministerial statement on the Hackitt Review in the House of Commons, and Dame Judith appeared before the Select Committee.

As expected, the review calls for wide ranging reforms to the system of building regulation in England, and also to the management of higher risk residential buildings during their whole operating life. The report is a once in a generation call for fundamental change in the way that we regulate the construction and operation of buildings, which seeks to address many of the flaws in the system that many in the CIBSE membership have grappled with for many years.

The main report runs to some 100 pages, with many detailed recommendations, including a new regulatory framework. There is an emphasis on viewing buildings as a system, rather than a collection of components. A new “Joint Competent Authority”, will bring together building control, fire and rescue and health and safety functions for higher risk residential buildings over ten storeys in height. This will have powers during both the construction and operation of the building.

A series of gateways to strengthen regulatory oversight of building safety are proposed, from initial planning through to occupation, with formal sign off and stronger change control processes after sign off. This is coupled with a single enforcement regime for these buildings, replacing the current market mechanism for building control with a single system supported by rigorous and enhanced enforcement powers. Creation of a digital record of higher risk buildings will be a requirement.

Clearly defined roles and responsibilities are proposed for dutyholders in these buildings during occupation and a mandatory incident reporting mechanism for safety concerns. Dutyholders will have to present a safety case for approval at regular intervals during the life of the building. Clearer rights for residents are proposed, as well as responsibilities where resident activity can create risks that may affect others.

There are proposals to improve the competence of those in the construction and fire safety sectors, with a new body to provide oversight of competence requirements. There are also proposals to transfer ownership of technical guidance to industry, whilst government retains responsibility for oversight, along with proposals for a clearer package of regulations and guidance that is simpler to navigate whilst reflecting the level of complexity of building work.

There are also recommendations to address poor procurement practices and to drive appropriate behaviour and practice, including a focus on safety and risk and on whole life cost.

There was much coverage in the media on the very specific issue of combustible cladding, with some organisations calling for a “ban” on combustible cladding prior to publication, and therefore study, of the report. This call fails to recognise that since the tragic Grenfell Tower fire some 300 buildings have been found to be clad in materials that do not meet the current regulatory requirements, in other words, are already banned on those buildings.

This clearly demonstrates that, as Dame Judith argues, the current regime is not working effectively to ensure that buildings are safely clad. Without the systemic reforms that Dame Judith proposes, there is no evidence to suggest that altering the current definition of what is banned will have a lasting effect or deliver improved safety. It is very unfortunate that the focus on this single issue appears to have distracted almost all commentary from the much needed overall package of reforms and changes to the way we build and operate high rise dwellings which Dame Judith has proposed.

It is not yet clear how the government will proceed to address the full package of recommendations but they have sought views on how these recommendations should be taken forward in the consultation that concluded in July (see Recommendations from the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety). Government have also consulted on restricting the use of desktop studies, and they are now consulting on clarification of Approved Document B and on “banning the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high rise residential buildings”.

They have also committed to work with industry to improve the user-friendliness of the overall suite of building regulations guidance, work on which CIBSE is already closely involved.

Hywel Davies
CIBSE Technical Director