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RIBA: Building regs interim report should have called for 'immediate and effective' changes

1200px grenfell tower fire (wider view)
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The RIBA has criticised an interim report into the review of building regulations for shying away from ‘introducing immediate and effective changes’

The institute said the report by Judith Hackitt, carried out in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, fails to include the immediate banning of ‘any combustible materials’ in the external walls of high-rise buildings and a requirement for there to be at least two staircases in tower blocks.

But the institute also welcomed a number of measures in the report, including raising the levels of competence and accreditation of those involved in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings, as well as greater clarity of the responsibilities within the current system.

The 121-page interim report, published yesterday (18 December), identifies six broad areas for change, including the need for a ’golden thread’ for high-rise buildings, which would record and review the ’original design intent and any subsequent changes or refurbishment’.

Hackitt, who is an engineer and chair of manufacturing trade body EEF, was commissioned by the government to carry out an independent review of the building regulations and fire safety in July following the Grenfell Tower fire. A final report is due to be published in spring next year. 

Past president of RIBA and chair of the RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on fire safety Jane Duncan said: ’I’m pleased that Dame Judith Hackitt recognises the current regulatory system is not fit for purpose and that there is a lack clarity of roles and responsibilities in the construction industry.

She said that the RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety ’strongly recommends’ that the final report should require a person or organisation ’to hold prime responsibility’ for the oversight of fire safety in the design and construction of building projects.

Duncan added: ’It is disappointing that the interim review has not called for an immediate prohibition on the use any combustible materials in the external wall construction of high-rise buildings. This means we continue with this grey-area in regards to fire-safety.’

It is disappointing that the interim review has not called for an immediate prohibition on the use any combustible materials

The institute said that, although it welcomed a number of the measures in Hackitt’s interim report, it is ’disappointing’ that the report ’shies away from introducing immediate and effective changes to the current fire safety guidance, Approved Document B [covering fire safety]’.

The RIBA further slammed the report for not insisting on a ’greater role’ for sprinklers as an ’active life safety measure’ in residential buildings.

Meanwhile, Hackitt went before ministers this afternoon to answer questions on her interim report.

During the session Hackitt said she was applying an ‘outcomes based approach’ to her review, which must be ‘risk-based’.

Hackitt said: ’This needs to be risk based, this needs to be about multiple occupancy complex buildings where large numbers of people are placed at risk in the event of fire. We need a different level of attention in the regulatory arena on those sorts of buildings.’

She also suggested that penalties may need to be introduced into the system in order to deter wrongdoers.

’We definitely need stronger enforcement and more realistic sanctions in this process,’ she said. ’Currently, the disincentive for taking short cuts in the system is, in my view, so low that it encourages people to just hope they won’t get caught.

’And, even if they do, the worst that can happen is that they will be asked to put it right. There are no real penalties in the system.’

The terms of reference for the review of the building regulations were published in August, and were criticised by the RIBA for not examining the ‘overall regulatory and procurement context’ for the UK construction industry. The AJ has contacted the RIBA for comment.

Comment

Chris Roche, founder, 11.04 Architects

The RIBA should seize on this opportunity and demand a review of the planning system also to ensure approved schemes are delivered without compromise to safety, security, or quality. The architect responsible for the original design should ensure the scheme as approved can satisfy Building Regulations, in general terms, and where there is clear intent for the original architect to be replaced post planning then adequate remuneration agreed both for the release of Design Copyright, and for the loss of profit on subsequent stages of the development process.

This would improve standards, and should lead to appropriate levels of reward for architects contingent upon the design being deliverable without change or compromise. If the profession’s leadership, the RIBA fails to grasp the opportunity they run the risk as with cost management, and project management, that other allied professionals, be they engineers or surveyors, step in to assume responsibility for all things technical, and architects are left to choose the colour scheme. 

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Readers' comments (3)

  • It seems daft to use combustible materials to clad any building - alternatives are available.
    Following Grenfell, these materials should be banned with immediate effect.
    Building Regulations need to be changed to include re-cladding.

    Yes indeed there should be one person responsible for seeing the fire/means of escape aspects of any building throughout the life of any building.
    Responsibility however remains with the owners, who should be subject to meaningful penalties, i.e. liability for manslaughter.

    But it looks like any change will be long delayed.

    Imagine appointing the chair of manufacturing trade body EEF to effectively self-regulate after such a disaster as Grenfell, where manufacturers’ influence in changing the design from one which was safe to one which was tragically unsafe was central.

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  • Chris Roche completely misses the point.

    At Grenfell the architects proposed a cladding system that was non-combustible, and furthermore placed the windows in the cladding to prevent fire behind the cladding creeping into the flats.

    The design was handed over to cost-cutters and cladding suppliers who changed both those design aspects - which were critical to fire safety.

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  • I'm a little confused David. If the windows are in the cladding, any fire in the airspace (rainscreen) would have an easy route into the interior of the structure.
    The villain of the piece is the airspace between the main structure layer and the cladding/insulation. A problem that has been known about for years. It is shameful that it takes a major tragedy to shake up the design profession. If indeed, it is shaken up. I'm beginning to wonder.

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