Dame Judith Hackitt’s review following the Grenfell fire: the final report
Dame Judith Hackitt’s final report following her independent review into building regulations and fire safety was published on 17 May 2018.
The review provides a powerful critique of the current regulatory framework and practices applicable to high-rise residential tower blocks. Dame Hackitt identifies the industry’s mentality towards safety as a key issue and calls for systematic change, as well as the inception of a new regulatory body to oversee and enforce such change.
The report identifies ignorance, lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities and inadequate regulatory oversight amongst the key culprits for the system’s failures. Dame Hackitt pushes for a more principle-based and outcome-focused regulatory framework. The proposed changes, should these be implemented, will be relevant to building owners and everyone involved in the construction industry.
Recommendations and practical implications
The report proposes that a Joint Competent Authority (JCA) be set up, to be comprised of local authorities, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The JCA would need to approve building safety at regular intervals throughout the life-cycle of a project, from early design to practical completion. It would have the power to levy hefty fines, issue ‘stop’ notices and even impose prison sentences for non-compliance. A mandatory incident reporting mechanism would be put in place. The new regulatory body may also have the ability to recover costs for its intervention, in a similar fashion to the HSE’s fees for intervention.
The changes proposed are, for the time being, relevant only for high-rise residential buildings of 10 storeys or more. Dame Hackitt suggests extending these proposals to other categories of building in the future, leaving open the possibility of further change.
The intention is for the new regime to be similarly structured to the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, with clearly defined duties and duty holders at each stage of the building’s life cycle. It is worth noting that continuing duties may extend through to occupation – for instance, residents may have the right to request fire risk assessments.
What will happen next?
Within 24 hours of the report’s publication, the Government committed to bringing forward legislation that delivers “meaningful and lasting change”. In addition to a consultation on combustible cladding materials, the Government is consulting on significantly restricting or banning the use of “desktop studies” to assess cladding systems.
The Government has also confirmed that it will work with industry to provide clarity and guidance in respect of the new framework. It will be important for such guidance to come in advance of the regulations coming into effect, and for the industry to be given time to comply. In the interim, it would be advisable for businesses and building owners alike to begin considering the potential implications of the changes.
Moving forward, it will be important to focus in any contractual documentation on the specific roles and responsibilities of duty holders. If enforced robustly, as is encouraged by the report, the new regime will result in increased accountability and substantially harsher penalties for non-compliance.