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Building a safer future 

01 June 2018

Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations set up in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster has proposed a new standards regulator as the centrepiece of a reformed building safety system that will increase the priority of safety in buildings.

Hackitt blamed "indifference and ignorance" for poor building standards, which she said had led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices, with cost prioritised over safety.

“The report makes it clear that the current system of building regulation in this country is not fit for purpose," Rhian Greaves, director in the regulatory team at law firm Pannone Corporate LLP, told HSM. "It calls for an 'integrated systemic change' and a stronger regulatory regime for residential tower blocks, reflective of their inherently high-risk nature.

“Dame Judith Hackitt proposes a framework designed to create a more straightforward and proportionate means to secure building safety, incentivising the right behaviours whilst effectively sanctioning poor practice and, importantly, reasserting the role of residents, involving them in building safety.”

However, Greaves went on to say that “whilst any steps taken to strengthen safety systems must of course be welcomed, in the absence of a ban on the combustible materials so inherently involved in the Grenfell fire, it is difficult to see this report providing much immediate comfort to survivors of the tragedy or indeed to the thousands of families living in high-rise residential blocks across the country, who will continue to worry for their ongoing safety".  

Grenfell survivors said they were “disappointed and saddened” that the report rejected their calls for a ban on combustible materials. Hackitt defended her decision by saying that a ban would "not address the root causes" of the problems in building regulations and she believes regulations need to be less, not more, prescriptive and it doesn’t help to ban specific items.

However, Hackitt then appeared to contradict her own report by saying she hoped the Government would ban combustible materials. That was quickly followed by the Secretary of State for Housing, James Brokenshire, saying he would consult on a ban. 

Flammable insulation and cladding products are currently being stripped from hundreds of high-rise homes in England and Wales. The day before the review's publication, the prime minister said the Government would spend £400m to help councils and registered social landlords strip it off, suggesting ministers consider it unacceptable.

While clarity is still needed around the status of combustible cladding, what is clear is that the Government must act fast to embrace the review's recommendations as soon as practicable. 

As Iain McIlwee, CEO of the British Woodworking Association, said in a statement: "The report is not the end, it is the beginning, and we need the dots to be joined up, and good guidance is embraced by robust regulation.”