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RIBA slams Hackitt’s post-Grenfell review as ‘major missed opportunity’

Grenfell tower guido van nispen flickr 2
  • 5 Comments

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has slammed the post-Grenfell review of Building Regulations as a ’major missed opportunity’ after it failed to ban combustible cladding on high-rise towers

Judith Hackitt’s final report, published this morning (17 May), calls for a new regulatory system and says that ‘indifference, lack of clarity on roles and inadequate regulation’ helped to create ‘a race to the bottom’ on safety.

But the review has been criticised for ignoring calls from survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, the RIBA, politicians and building firms for an outright ban on the type of cladding used at Grenfellwer. 

The report also stops short of recommending a ban on ‘desktop studies’ – fire-safety assessments made without any lab tests. It instead calls for the ‘restriction’ of assessment in lieu of tests – a move the RIBA has described as window dressing

The RIBA dismissed the review as ‘a major missed opportunity’ and said it offered ‘no changes whatsoever to the actual regulations or baseline guidance’.

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire commented: ‘Whilst there are elements of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Review that we very much welcome, we are extremely concerned that it has failed to act on the urgent need to immediately protect life safety through a more detailed programme of simplified and improved regulations, standards and guidance.’

Former RIBA president Jane Duncan added: ‘By failing to ban the use of combustible materials and “desktop” studies, or require use of sprinklers, the report’s recommendations will not deliver the immediate change that is needed to reassure and safeguard the public.’

The Hackitt review recommends the government adopt a more ‘rigourous and transparent product testing regime’ and that flammable cladding be retested at least once every three years.

Speaking this morning, Hackitt said: ‘This is a systemic problem. The current system is far too complex; it lacks clarity as to who is responsible for what and there is inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement.

‘Simply adding more prescription or making amendments to the current system, such as restricting or prohibiting certain practices, will not address the root causes.’

In the report, Hackitt also hit out at ‘social media chatter’ and ‘siloed thinking’, arguing that the industry must start seeing buildings as a system requiring layers of protection.

The basic intent of fire safety has been lost

‘The debate continues to run about whether or not aluminium cladding is used for thermal insulation, weatherproofing, or as an integral part of the fabric, fire safety and integrity of the building’, reads the report, adding: ‘It is clear that in this type of debate, the basic intent of fire safety has been lost’.

Hackitt urged the industry to start ‘living’ the changes now, and called on the government to set out a clear plan for the implementation of the review’s recommendations.

The independent review was announced last July by then communities secretary Sajid Javid in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 71 people the previous month.

It came as the first results of large-scale tests of building’s cladding systems were published, revealing that the system used on the Grenfell Tower had failed the test set out in Building Regulations guidance.

Since then, according to the government, fire services have checked more than 1,250 high-rises, identifying 158 where cladding should be stripped off. Work is underway at 104 blocks.

The government announced yesterday it would fund £400 million for councils and housing associations to remove and replace dangerous cladding.

The public inquiry into the fire starts on Monday (21 May), beginning with two weeks of tributes to the deceased by their friends and family.

Judith Hackitt’s key recommendations:

  • A ‘more rigorous and transparent product testing regime’ and a more responsible marketing regime
  • A ‘less prescriptive’ and outcomes-based approach to the regulatory framework overseen by a new regulator
  • Clearer roles and responsibilities throughout the design and construction process to ensure ‘real accountability’
  • Residents should be consulted and involved in decisions affecting the safety of their homes
  • Industry to lead on strengthening competence of those involved in building work 

What is the Hackitt review?

The review of building safety and fire regulations was commissioned in July 2017 following the fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017. An interim report was published in December 2017. Hackitt brought industry representatives together for a summit in January 2018 and the findings of working groups reported to Hackitt in March. The Hackitt review is separate to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

This is the scope of the review:

  • The regulatory system around the design, construction and ongoing management of buildings in relation to fire safety
  • Related compliance and enforcement issues
  • International regulation and experience in this area.

Hackitt was chair of the Health and Safety Executive from October 2007 to March 2016. She is a chemical engineer and worked in the chemicals manufacturing industry for 23 years.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • John Kellett

    Interesting.

    She appears to be saying that the current building regulations are strong enough to protect the public. Which seems fair as they have worked quite well in the past. But that those regulations have been broken (by manufacturers, contractors and building management?) for 'value engineering' reasons. She then appears to say that the solution lies with those very same manufacturers, contractors and building management, which seems odd. Those that break the regulations should not be the ones enforcing them.

    Stronger policing of the existing rules by Government is what is needed. Banning the unqualified from the design, specification, construction and management of buildings would seem to be the most appropriate legislative measure in the circumstances.

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  • Responsibility for this accident lies with the Conservative government. The government privatised the Building Research Establishment (BRE) who then had to compete for work on building certification - leading to an inevitable lowering of standards of construction and this resulting tragedy. Until the culture of impunity for those responsible is addressed we can expect more of the same.

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  • Stop building high rise flats with one staircase - stop telling tenants to stay in their flats if the fire alarm sounds. If structure still sound reconfigure and replan Grenfell by installing two new staircases , one of which is designated primarily for fire service use , including fire service instructing escape if appropriate- (ie therefore three in total)

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  • Phil Parker

    RIBA are so keen to get the ‘Daily Mail’ style ban-it headline out there they’ve totally missed the point. It’s not just about banning flammable materials!

    Who are the numpties at the RIBA who write these press releases? Do they genuinely believe they can see the larger picture or have they just not built anything higher than two stories - or is it both?

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  • Phil Parker

    Stop telling people to stay on their floor in event of a fire in the building? Does the above contributor understand how buildings work?

    A fire on level 19 in a 30 storey building you get the people out on 19 and adjacent floors first. If you’ve told the whole building to evacuate, the stair is blocked and the people on 19 are trapped.

    Alternatively, you can build 15 or so stairs and allow the who building to evacuate at once.

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