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Fix shoddy buildings before new regulator forces you to, Hackitt warns industry

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Judith Hackitt has warned builders, architects and suppliers to improve shoddy buildings they have already worked on before the new building regulator forces them to

Hackitt is overseeing the creation of the regulator under the umbrella of the Health and Safety Executive after the government accepted all of the 53 recommendations she made in her review of the building and fire safety regulations.

Yesterday (13 February) she told a conference organised by specification-tech company NBS in Birmingham that members of a project team had a responsibility to put right any defects in the quality of existing buildings they had worked on.

‘This won’t just be a change of standards for new buildings from the day the regulations come into force,’ Hackitt said. ‘These regulations will apply for the existing stock of buildings.

‘So anything that you supplied into that is already out there … these questions are going to get asked of you.’

She added: ‘Why wouldn’t you change as soon as you can to put right the sins of the past and be in a much better position to answer those questions – rather than waiting for the regulations to tell you you have to do it? It is folly not to get on with it.’

Hackitt at nbs

Hackitt at nbs

Hackitt’s comments came as Fiona Fletcher-Smith, group development and sales director at housing association L&Q, said the drive to retrofit and collect data on its existing housing stock was one of the key reasons why it had paused new development.

‘My ability to build social housing is hampered by the fact that I do not have spare profit to be able to cross-subsidise that while dealing with the regulatory environment we are in,’ she said. ‘I cannot do both – I cannot deal with the fire safety issues and do new building. There is only a finite pot of money. We would hope to get back buying new land within the next 18 months but we’re not going to do that at the expense of our existing homes and existing stock.’

L&Q is one of a handful of developers, alongside Barratt and Kier, that signed up to be an ‘early adopter’ of Hackitt’s recommendations and trial different systems for regulation. 

The conference also heard that Hackitt doubted the quality of buildings had improved since Grenfell. 

‘What worries me is that everyone tells me we have learned the lessons of Grenfell, but it is coming up to three years from Grenfell and how may buildings have we built since then? … are they really any better than the ones built before?’ she asked. 

‘I think the story of the halls of residence in Bolton, where one building was refurbished and the other was not to the same extent because the height was slightly different, tells us people are still playing games with the system rather than taking the true messages to heart.’

Four takeaways from Judith Hackitt’s speech in Birmingham

  1. The new Building Regulations will not have a specific focus on high-rise residential buildings. Instead, they will take a broader view of which buildings pose the greatest risk if built improperly. Hackitt said: ‘[For] high-rise buildings, building with multiple occupancy, but also those building where very vulnerable people live – like care homes and hospitals and all of those things – a higher level of rigour and a higher level of oversight will be in place.’
  2. Hackitt is lobbying the insurance industry to offer alternative products to personal indemnity (PI) insurance. This is because she believes PI does not protect the consumers who are buying buildings. ‘What it actually does is set one professional against another; one insurer standing up in defence of one particular professional against everyone else,’ she said. ‘We are pushing through the industry steering group to get the insurance industry to think about new products – things like project insurance rather than insuring individual [parties].’
  3. Hackitt wants procurement to change in the construction industry. ‘The simple answer to the question “Do forms of contract have to change?” is yes,’ she said. Hackitt said contracts and procurement were part of the reason there is a ‘blame game’ with members of project teams trying to pass on responsibility. ‘This sense of a collective goal and a collective responsibility has to be written through everything – the procurement processes and the form of contract. It has to change,’ she added. Hackitt said the role of a regulator was to encourage best practice.
  4. The new regulatory regime will incentivise off-site construction methods. This is because it is easier to ensure the quality of building parts and their installation when it is done in a factory, she said, adding: ‘What we are going to see is much more [of] a move towards modularised construction, because the more that we can go towards factory-build rather than onsite construction, the more we can do assurances on not just the materials but also the method so we can give better assurances of the holistic product.’ 
  • 4 Comments

Readers' comments (4)

  • It’s time for a bi-annual Building Inspection equivalent to an MOT for buildings, testing for safety, energy use, and planning compliance. The air quality of the location could also be recorded to monitor the impact of pollution on the occupants or owners.
    Chris Roche 11.04 Architects.

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  • John Kellett

    It is also time to regulate who is allowed to design and construct buildings. There is no protection for the public from decisions made by the unqualified. Planning and Building Regulation controls can never be enough as they are not necessarily staff by the adequately qualified either. The the U.K. to get into this situation does not bode well for its future.

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  • Post occupancy evaluation is the answer, every five years, using an approach such as Soft Landings or the Design Quality Method (DQM).

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  • Re conclusion point 4. It’s very easy to say that modular contruction will improve standards but such a sweeping assumption isn’t necessarily correct because:
    (1) modular construction tends to apply to main structural elements, leaving fitout including much or even most of the critical fireproofing to site work, ie not under factory control.
    (2) From what I’ve seen, I’m seriously worried about the quality of much of the UK’s off-site industry, including the obsession with foam-filled SIPS panels which I understand at least one major insurer will no longer cover; lack of vapour control measures with inherent risk of interstitial condensation; and apparent lack of interest in cold bridging. I know of only two offsite manufacturers that I would personally have sufficient confidence in to specify for my clients, and only as part of a construction package that includes a very high standard of follow-on site work.

    So my personal view is that the problems stem from a very poor regulatory environment that this government seems intent on worsening in the name of free market liberalisation and ‘escape’ from European standards that will no doubt improve business profits, but worsen safety conditions for building users and take the rug from under those who are hoping to improve
    the knowledge and commitment of those training to work in the construction industry.

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