The Hackitt Review- Two years on

27 May 2020

It is just over two years since the publication of Dame Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.  Following the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, the Government commissioned a report to make recommendations on the 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’ Dame Hackitt called for major reform and a change of culture, making clear that the current system is not fit for purpose. 

The final report identified the key issues underpinning the system failure as:

  • Ignorance- regulations and guidance are not always read by those who need to, and when they do the guidance is misunderstood and misinterpreted.
  • Indifference-the primary motivation is to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible rather than to deliver quality homes which are safe for people to live in.  When concerns are raised, by others involved in building work or by residents, they are often ignored. Some of those undertaking building work fail to prioritise safety, using the ambiguity of regulations and guidance to game the system.
  • Lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities- there is ambiguity over where responsibility lies, exacerbated by a level of fragmentation within the industry, and precluding robust ownership of accountability.
  • Inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools- the size or complexity of a project does not seem to inform the way in which it is overseen by the regulator.  Where enforcement is necessary, it is often not pursued, the penalties are so small as to be an ineffective deterrent.

Hackitt went on to describe how these issues have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector which could be described as a "race to the bottom" caused either by ignorance, indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice, describing "insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe."

She went on to outline key recommendations including:

  • A new regulatory framework- focused on multi-occupancy higher risk residential buildings (HRRBs) that are 10 storeys or more in height.
  • A new Joint Competent Authority (JCA)- comprising Local Authority Building Standards, fire and rescue authorities and the HSE to oversee better management of safety risks in these buildings across their entire life cycle.
  • A set of rigorous and demanding dutyholder roles and responsibilities- to ensure a stronger focus on building safety.
  • A series of robust gateway points to strengthen regulatory oversight- that will require dutyholders to show to the JCA that their plans are detailed and robust; that their understanding and management of building safety is appropriate; and that they can properly account for the safety of the completed building.
  • More rigorous enforcement powers- a wider and more flexible range of powers will be created to focus incentives on the creation of reliably safe buildings from the outset.
  • A clear and identifiable dutyholder- with responsibility for building safety of the whole building.

The full list of recommendations can be found in the Final Report. 

So two years on- what progress has been made?  Following on from the publication of the Final Report, the government agreed with all of the recommendations and later published an Implementation Plan in December 2018.  On 6 June 2019 it launched a consultation on proposals for reform of the building safety system (‘Building a Safer Future’ consultation) with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (“MHCLG”) releasing a response to the consultation in April of this year.  The government had sought views on its proposals for reform of the building safety system following on from Dame Hackitt’s review.  On 28 October 2019 it was announced that Dame Hackitt would provide independent advice to the government on how best to establish the new Building Safety Regulator, which she admitted in February of this year, would not likely be up and running until 2021.  The regulator will initially operate as a shadow body under the umbrella of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) until legislation giving it statutory powers is passed. 

The Building Safety Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech at the end of 2019 but no date has been set for its second reading.  It was announced that the Building Safety Bill would “put in place new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products, and ensure residents have a stronger voice in the system.”

The Fire Safety Bill had its second reading on 29 April 2020 and is now being considered by a Public Bill Committee which is expected to report to the House by 25 June 2020 (see my recent blog here). The Government proposed that the Bill will “implement the relevant legislative recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry Phase 1 Report” and “put beyond doubt that the Fire Safety Order will require building owners and managers of multi-occupied residential premises of any height to fully consider and mitigate the risks of any external wall systems and fire doors.” 

Both Bills are a step in the right direction and it is hoped will provide greater clarity, but it remains to be seen how Dame Hackitt’s recommendations are implemented and how these will work in practice.

About the author

Hannah Eales is an experienced advocate and a regulatory, health and safety and criminal law specialist. Hannah has a particular expertise in Fire Safety law having prosecuted on behalf of Fire and Rescue Authorities in the Magistrates’ and Crown Courts and the Court of Appeal.  

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