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Grenfell Tower: Government calls on industry for building regs review

Grenfell tower
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The government has announced its call for evidence for the independent review of the Building Regulations – and has pinpointed architects for responses about fire safety 

A document published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) states that it is ’particularly interested’ to hear from those who use the current regulatory system – both on the parts that work well and need to be reformed, especially in the context of high-rise residential buildings.

The department is encouraging respondents to answer ten specific questions (see below) outlined in the document, including one on whether architects are ‘adequately resourced’ to demonstrate and assess compliance with building regulations and ’if gaps exist how can they be addressed’.

Architect and fire expert Sam Webb told the AJ that chair of the review, Dame Judith Hackett, had asked him personally to provide a response, which he is currently writing, and urged those in the profession to respond. 

’The current “pick and mix” approach to compliance with Approved Document Part B [which covers fire safety in the Building Regulations] did not appear out of thin air,’ said Webb. ’It goes right to the top of government. It set the agenda, in cabinet.’

He added: ’This must be investigated fearlessly by Dame Judith Hackitt.’ 

Other questions in the call for evidence include whether the building regulations are ’clear and understood’ by those who use them, and asking what examples there are of good regulatory practice outside England. 

The DCLG comissioned an independent review of Building Regulations and fire safety in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. 

Last month, communities secretary Sajid Javid conceded that there could be a ‘systemic failure’ in the way tower block fire risk is managed in the UK, as the terms of reference for the review of the building regulations were announced. An interim report will be submitted in autumn 2017 and a final report submitted in spring 2018.

The review will co-operate fully with the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry, and Dame Judith Hackitt will review her recommendations in the light of the findings of the inquiry.

View the call for evidence here

Responses should be submitted by 13 October 2017 by emailing BuildingRegulationsandFireSafetyReview@communities.gsi.gov.uk

The ten specific questions

The overarching legal requirements

1.To what extent are the current building, housing and fire safety legislation and associated guidance clear and understood by those who need to follow them? In particular:

• What parts are clear and well understood by those who need to follow them?; and, if appropriate

• Where specifically do you think there are gaps, inconsistencies and/or overlaps (including between different parts of the legislation and guidance)? What changes would be necessary to address these and what are the benefits of doing so?

Roles & Responsibilities

2. Are the roles, responsibilities & accountabilities of different individuals (in relation to adhering to fire safety requirements or assessing compliance) at each key stage of the building process2 clear, effective and timely? In particular:

• Where are responsibilities clear, effective and timely and well understood by those who need to adhere to them/assess them?; and, if appropriate

• Where specifically do you think the regime is not effective?

• What changes would be necessary to address these and what are the benefits of doing so?

3. Does the current system place a clear over-arching responsibility on named parties for maintaining/ ensuring fire safety requirements are met in a high-rise multi occupancy building? Where could this be made clearer? What would be the benefits of doing so?

 

Competencies of key players

4. What evidence is there that those [architects are specifically mentioned in a footnote] with responsibility for:

• Demonstrating compliance (with building regulations, housing & fire safety requirements) at various stages in the life cycle of a building;

• Assessing compliance with those requirements are appropriately trained and accredited and are adequately resourced to perform their role effectively (including whether there are enough qualified professionals in each key area)? If gaps exist how can they be addressed and what would be the benefits of doing so? 

Enforcement & Sanctions

5. Is the current checking and inspection regime adequately backed up through enforcement and sanctions? In particular

• Where does the regime already adequately drive compliance or ensure remedial action is always taken in a timely manner where needed?

• Where does the system fail to do so? Are changes required to address this and what would be the benefits of doing so?

Tenants’ & Residents’ Voice in the current system

6. Is there an effective means for tenants and other residents to raise concerns about the fire safety of their buildings and to receive feedback? Where might changes be required to ensure tenants’/residents’ voices on fire safety can be heard in the future?

Quality Assurance and Testing of Materials

7. Does the way building components are safety checked, certified and marketed in relation to building regulations requirements need to change? In particular:

• Where is the system sufficiently robust and reliable in maximising fire safety and, if appropriate

• Where specifically do you think there are weaknesses/gaps? What changes would be necessary to address these and what would be the benefits of doing so?

Differentiation within the current Regulatory System

8. What would be the advantages/disadvantages of creating a greater degree of differentiation in the regulatory system between high-rise multi occupancy residential buildings and other less complex types of residential/non-residential buildings? Where specifically do you think further differentiation might assist in ensuring adequate fire safety and what would be the benefits of such changes?

International Comparisons and Other Sectors

9. What examples exist from outside England of good practice in regulatory systems that aim to ensure fire safety in similar buildings? What aspects should be specifically considered and why?

10. What examples of good practice from regulatory regimes in other industries/sectors that are dependent on high quality safety environments are there that we could learn from? What key lessons are there for enhancing fire safety?

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