A year on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it’s hard to say with any certainty whether the way buildings are being procured in this country has improved.
But there are signs that, amid the uncertainty, certain lessons are being learned about the lowest-cost approach that failed in such tragic circumstances 12 months ago.
Our special issue coming out this week shows that the industry and local authorities are still struggling to grasp the right way to procure and what is safe in a post-Grenfell world.
On the one hand, changes are occurring. Social housing providers are procuring higher-end materials. Products never seen before on social housing are being installed. There is more evidence that local authorities are procuring with a heavier weighting on quality and not just cost.
Reassuringly, the construction supply chain is being asked for more technical information and companies are being challenged more about their proposed design and building solutions.
But still, there is confusion over appropriate ways to test and build housing infrastructure.
BRE labs are backed up with long waiting lists for safety tests, leading some companies to send materials to private testing facilities in Dubai, which is adding to the cost of getting crucial social infrastructure built.
Companies as varied as Barratt, Legal & General and Mace are footing bills of millions of pounds to replace cladding or to employ a round-the-clock ‘waking watch’ on buildings with unsuitable cladding. And experts want British Standard safety tests to be reviewed and updated, a task which will no doubt take years.
The Grenfell legacy must be one where communities, developers and the construction industry work together to create safer homes. This industry is part of the solution, but clients and organisations who house people must step up and take responsibility for avoiding lowest-cost procurement.
Ben Anthony’s documentary Grenfell aired on BBC this week and showed what happens when communities don’t have a say in the infrastructure around them. Among the most powerful images of the documentary was of Grenfell resident Edward Daffarn who lived on the 16th floor, addressing council members last year, having warned of a catastrophe at Grenfell long before it happened.
Councils and construction firms must start having frank discussions about the industry’s approach to ‘value engineering’, seen by many as a selling point on projects but too often just another way of saying ‘lowest cost’.
Ask yourself and ask your clients: what price would you pay to ensure Grenfell never happens again?