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Radical reform of building regulations and fire safety is needed says official review

Radical reform of the building regulatory system is needed in the UK, particularly high rises, according to the official review into regulations and fire safety following the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The new regulatory framework is needed to ensure that residents are safe and to rebuild trust after the high rise fire in London in which 71 people died, says the Independent Review of Building Regulations report from chair Dame Judith Hackitt.

At the heart of the new system will be a requirement for the construction industry to take responsibility for the delivery of safe buildings, rather than looking to others to tell them what is or is not acceptable. But there will not be lots of new red tape.

Dame Judith, who was appointed by the Government to lead the review in light of the system failures revealed by testing carried out in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, found that 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,’ she said.

‘The recommendations in this report will lead to a clearer, simpler but more robust approach to the building and on-going management of high rise residential buildings,’ she added.

Building on her interim report, which found that the current system of building and fire safety is not fit for purpose and set out six key areas for further work, Dame Judith’s final report finds that a new regulatory framework for higher risk residential buildings is required to improve building safety and ensure that residents are safe.

The report sets out an ambitious vision for a new framework which will improve standards for both new and existing buildings. Many of the ideas proposed could be applied to a wider range of buildings and aim to drive change more broadly.

The report makes recommendations relating to a less prescriptive, outcomes based approach to the regulatory framework to be overseen by a new regulator and clearer roles and responsibilities throughout the design and construction process and during occupation, to ensure real accountability for building safety.

It also calls for residents to be consulted and involved in decisions affecting the safety of their home and listened to if they have concerns as well as a more rigorous and transparent product testing regime, a more responsible marketing regime and for the industry to lead on strengthening competence of all those involved in building work and to establish an oversight body.

Dame Judith is calling on the government to set out a clear plan for implementation and for industry and regulators to start the changes now. Indeed, many in the sector have called for fundamental change. Dame Judith added that it will be important now for industry to show leadership in driving this forward to achieve genuine and lasting culture change.

She believes that the ultimate test of this new framework will be the rebuilding of public confidence with a system that needs to be more transparent and a relationship between landlords and tenants that centres on partnership and collaboration.

The review provides a blueprint for ensuring competence in construction which should be extended across the industry, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). ‘Today’s report is the culmination of a long and thorough review into the weaknesses of the current approach to competency and compliance in the sector, weaknesses which can serve to undermine safety,’ said FMB chief executive Brian Berry.

‘It is a suitably serious response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Dame Judith has understandably focused the attention of the review on high rise residential buildings, but we believe strongly that some of the recommendations must be taken as a blueprint for the wider industry,’ he pointed out.

‘In particular, the industry as a whole needs to develop a comprehensive approach to competence. There is an opportunity here for the whole industry to step up and ensure we have adequate levels of competence across the sector. Without this, significant parts of our industry will continue to be plagued by incompetent and unprofessional outfits,’ he explained.

‘Furthermore, a comprehensive competency framework should be underpinned by a licensing system for all builders and contractors operating in the construction industry. This is the only way we will ensure that a baseline for competence is both recognised and complied with. The FMB has already started a conversation about how we can put this into practice and is engaging with other industry bodies to this end,’ he added.

He also pointed out that the FMB’s new agenda, published last week, calls on the Government to introduce a licensing scheme for builders. ‘We already know that nearly 80% of construction SMEs are in favour of introducing a licencing scheme. Licensing would remove the scourge of rogue and incompetent builders from the industry and in turn provide a much higher level of consumer protection,’ Berry said.