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Hackitt Report response: What architects need to know about latest fire-safety consultation

Grenfell in green
  • 5 Comments

The government has launched yet another consultation on improving the fire and structural safety of high-rise housing – its fourth since Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety

Coming a week ahead of the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Building a Safer Future document explains how the government wants ‘to overhaul the [building safety] system for high-rise residential buildings’ and deliver ‘something that will have a real and lasting impact’.

The consultation is based on many of Hackitt’s recommendations,and includes proposals to: introduce clearer responsibilities for those building or managing these buildings; give a stronger voice in the system and better information for residents; allow greater oversight of buildings’ safety by regulators; and create a tougher enforcement regime for when things go wrong.

Importantly, the proposed regulatory changes will now cover residential buildings over 18m-tall, rather than the vaguer ‘10 storeys’ suggested by Hackitt.

However, the new fire-safety rules would not apply to other high-risk buildings such as schools, hospitals, care homes and prisons.

The consultation, which runs until 31 July, covers a number of key areas: 

  • Who are the clear duty-holders looking after a building ‘at all stages’?
    The document sets out who should be responsible for buildings from being designed and built to when people are living in them. This includes guidance on who should be the principal designer (PD) and principal contractor (PC), modelled closely on the duty-holders in the CDM Regulations, and the new role of building safety manager (BSM).
    b
    The duties including ensuring that building regulations are complied with. The consultation sets out a clear set of responsibilities that they need to meet to show how they are making buildings safe.

  • How will the new regulatory system be enforced?
    To ensure ‘effective oversight of the regulatory system’ a new single building safety regulator is to be created. This overseer will be responsible for making sure everyone follows the new regulations, and that those responsible for buildings have the right skills and knowledge for the job. It will also have oversight of building safety across England.

    If those working on buildings don’t follow the requirements, the government says it wants an ‘effective way to hold them to account’ – including sanctions.
     
  • What role will residents have?
    According to the consultation document, residents will be empowered by giving them the right safety information about their building and by making sure that they can raise any views or concerns about the safety of their building and not be ignored.

The document also adds weight to Hackitt’s ‘golden thread’ notion, in which she called for the original designer to be involved throughout the construction process.

If approved, there would be a  requirement that the principal contractor must consult with the principal designer before deviating from the original full plans to ensure safety is not compromised, and that the principal designer and principal contractor must jointly confirm compliance of construction.

Elsewhere the consultation explains how the new regime would apply to significant major refurbishments and changes of use, and not just new buildings.

It adds that the fire and rescue authorities would become statutory consultees to the planning process, and sets out proposals for the development of an overarching competency framework for those working on buildings within the scope of the new regulatory regime.

Separately on the issues of competency, the RIBA announced it was introducing a compulsory health and safety test for all its members in the wake of the Grenfell fire

The test will cover roles, responsibilities and legislation, design risk management and personal health and safety when working away from the office 

No information has yet emerged from the Architects Registration Board about how it might be asked to assess fire-safety competence levels for architects applying to join its register and those already on it.

Comment

Adrian Dobson, RIBA executive director professional services
The Grenfell Tower tragedy shocked the world and exposed serious failures. Yet nearly two years on – aside from restrictions on the use of combustible materials – building regulations and associated guidance remain largely unchanged and inconsistent across the UK.

We welcome this consultation and particularly commend the proposals for tighter regulation of higher risk residential buildings of 18m or more in height (rather than 30m+ which was recommended by the government’s 2018 Independent Review of Building Regulations on Fire Safety) and the establishment of a single building safety regulator.

However, significant reform in building safety requirements is long overdue. We urge the government to extend these regulations to other high-risk buildings such as schools, hospitals, care homes and prisons, and adopt vital recommendations such as increased requirements for the use of sprinklers.

Geoff Wilkinson, fire safety and buildings regulations expert
There are some real positives in [this consultation], But for a culture change, it needs to be the entire industry not just some high-rise buildings – typically just in city centres. For years the government has told us there was no greater risk with height; now they seem to be arguing the reverse to try and keep as much status quo as possible.

Try telling residents of 17m-tall blocks that no change is required

If we look at major fire incidents such as King’s Cross Station, Summerland, Bradford City stadium etc, none of these would be addressed by the proposed changes. We need a single system, not twin-track ones. Try telling residents of 17m-tall blocks that no change is required. Try telling the owners of new homes by mass housebuilders that the system is fit for purpose when they face hundreds of defects.

Yes, the report is a step forward but we need a more radical rethink.

We have limited resources so need to make the best use of the building inspectors we have in both private and public sectors and supplement this further by self-checking technology and clerk of works / supervising architects. We also need to reduce the influence of financial decision-makers and developers, and let architects take ownership of design and construction. We need the Golden Thread on all projects from domestic lofts to major infrastructure to ensure that those responsible face real consequences when the wrong decisions are made, and tragic events follow.

 

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Industry Professional

    As a civil engineering designer and Principal Designer (under CDM), I broadly welcome this. However, I do think everyone needs to be clear on what the role of Principal Designer actually involves. Under the CDM Regulations, it refers to meeting regulations 11 and 12, which specifically refer to health and safety aspects of the design in terms of its construction, safety in use and maintenance as well as its final demolition, and not the person or body being the principal designer for all aspects of the design. Accepting the many, sometimes conflicting, requirements on designers, 25 years after CDM first came into force, I still think that the approach of designers to CDM is patchy. I do not claim to be perfect at it either. Overall, I do think that the best arrangement is often what was the HSE's original intention, back in 2014, of the Lead Designer also being the Principal Designer under CDM.

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  • Industry Professional

    Once upon a time we used to have loads of knowledgeable clerk of works who inspected the works...….Forgive for not knowing but do any projects still use them? If not, it is time they came back.

    I have never been keen on self-certification. There is nothing like another pair of expert eyes to spot short-comings in a design or something on site.

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  • I agree with most of the points made. Architects and contractors need to collaborate more than they often do in my experience. Unfortunately d & b contracts don’t always allow this when architect is effectively doing what he/she is told. Better use NEC which relies on main client driving a collaborative process.
    Design affects pre construction, construction and facilities management therefore architects must assume the responsibility of ensuring a safe design becomes a safe building throughout its use by being their checking every step of the way

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  • Architects and builders should submit to independent POE, as this is a specialist activity that they are not able to conduct for themselves, nor with any objectivity. Self regulation does not work...just look at the financial sector, whose hubris and deceit we are still paying for, ten years on. How long will the search for truth and culpability last at Grenfell? Decades like Hillsborough. It is a systemic failure borne of Neoliberalism, privatisation (e.g. BRE) and deregulation...and that is the problem. There are too many culpable individuals and institutions, which necessitates a cover-up by the Establishment.

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  • Industry Professional

    The consultation document has 121 questions requesting responses. I wonder who will be able to spare the time to make a submission. Hopefully, at least the main institutions will. I would urge designers to at least try to find the time to take a look at it.

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