The Hackitt report - what next?

13 August 2018

A substantial rebuild or simply papering over the cracks - What does the Hackitt Report mean for the construction industry? - A blog series

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government commissioned a report to make recommendations on the future regulatory system covering high rise and complex buildings.  In her final report (‘Building a Safer Future, Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Final Report’), published in May 2018, Dame Hackitt called for major reform and a change of culture, making clear that the current system is not fit for purpose. 

Dame Hackitt’s report focused on multi occupancy higher risk residential buildings (HRRB’s) over ten storeys in height, but went on to suggest that in the future the recommendations may be extended to other buildings which are used by vulnerable people.

The key findings of the report can be summarised as follows: (1) a general ignorance of the regulations and guidance; (2) a lack of priority on safety measures for the sake of keeping costs low; (3) a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities; and (4) inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement. 

Dame Hackitt recommended a new regulatory framework and a new Joint Competent Authority (JCA) comprising Local Authority Building Standards, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive to oversee better management of safety risks in buildings across their entire life cycle. 

At the heart of the report are the ‘the principles for a new regulatory framework which will drive real culture change and the right behaviours.’ The key principles are identified as (1) a clear model of risk ownership; (2) the new regulatory framework being ‘outcomes based’; (3) thinking about buildings as a system so that different layers of protection can be considered; (4) a risk based approach to the level of regulatory oversight and (5) transparency of information and an audit trail through the life cycle of a building.

During a recent Webinar chaired by Dame Hackitt, she reiterated the need for integrated systemic change and explained that in turn, legislative change will be required.  The changes, she explained will therefore take time to fully implement.  However, she suggested there is no reason to wait for legal change to start the process of behaviour change and that a sense of ‘urgency and commitment from everyone’ is needed.  She stated that in the meantime ‘industry must start ‘living’ the cultural shift that is required’ and that ‘the most important element of achieving that will be leadership from within industry.’

Within her report, Dame Hackitt further explained that we must find a way to apply the principles outlined to the existing stock of complex high rise residential buildings as well as new builds.  She described a ‘moral obligation’ to those who are living in buildings which they bought or rented in good faith assuming them to be safe.  This application would take time and would cost, however Dame Hackitt stated this ‘cannot be allowed to stand in the way of assuring public safety.’

The response from those in the fire industry has been mixed.  The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) welcomed the report and Dame Hackitt’s ‘determination to fix the system’.  However they went on to state that there are areas where more detail is needed, in particular that the current definition of the buildings within scope overlooks other buildings and vulnerable people such as those in care homes, student accommodation and hospitals as well as residential buildings below 10 floors. 

The institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) responded to the report stating ‘it is now up to the Government to act on these recommendations as we work to ensure we never have another tragic fire like Grenfell Tower.’  They urged the Government ‘to develop an implementation plan as soon as possible’ stating it should be made publicly available and that regular updates be provided. 

London Fire Brigade also welcomed the proposals to increase the role of the fire service in the safety of buildings and again, urged the Government to take the new recommendations on board quickly. 

The Government responded to the report in the House of Commons on 17 May 2018.  The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP stated the Government supports the principles behind the report’s recommendations for a new system and that it agreed that the system should be overseen by a more effective regulatory framework, including stronger powers of inspection and effective sanctions. 

In a written statement on 19 July 2018, Mr Brokenshire reiterated that the government agrees with the principles behind the report’s recommendations for a more effective system and that he would set out a detailed implementation plan in the autumn, however, like Dame Hackitt he stated ‘we can, and must, start changing the culture and practice right now.’

The Department has since published the clarified building regulations fire safety guidance for consultation which is open until 11 October and has stated it will also carry out a wider technical review of the guidance on fire safety, publishing a call for evidence in the autumn.  A number of other consultations were launched, including one on proposals to ban the use of combustible materials in the exterior wall of high rise buildings as referred to in my colleague Brandusa’s blog:  “A principled outcomes-based approached with a clear model of risk ownership”.

In response to the Hackitt report an independent Fire Standards Board has been set up to ‘produce and own’ professional standards for fire and rescue services in England. The board is to be formed by late summer with work on the standards to begin shortly after.

We will be following the progress of the implementation of recommendations from Dame Hackitt’s review closely.  Whilst the recommendations are widely welcomed there is clearly much left to do. 

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