The Hackitt review was welcomed across UK construction as an opportunity to deliver meaningful reform. But it is important that it delivers the right outcomes.
The review was not entirely without its controversies. A failure to make a clear call to ban flammable cladding was one such omission and has since been addressed by the government. It also did not recommend sprinklers, or other similar systems, be made mandatory in all buildings above 18 m, which is clearly a missed opportunity.
Many have observed that, bearing in mind it was a local authority that signed off the work at Grenfell Tower, another odd aspect of the review was to suggest that approved inspectors (AIs) be omitted from inspecting high-risk residential buildings unless there is insufficient capacity in local authority Building Control departments.
AIs are the only viable alternative to local authority inspectors. Effectively banning them from the inspection process and relying solely on the public sector has already proven to be problematic in Scotland.
A Scottish Government report released in June on building standards compliance and enforcement expressed concerns about the current “capacity and capability” of local authorities “to provide the required level of service”.
This report also highlighted that enforcement of compliance by local authorities “was considered to a large degree to be ineffectual, potentially due to a lack of resources to address this issue, and requires significant reinforcement”.
“Preventing approved inspectors from working on high-risk residential buildings will significantly reduce the competency of the building inspector regime”
This situation would be much worse in England and Wales.
In Scotland, only around 20 per cent of schemes are categorised as complex. In England and Wales, 32 per cent of the 120,000 applications AIs work on each year are considered complex, whereas the figure for those worked on by local authorities is just 17 per cent.
A higher proportion of AIs are qualified to work on complex projects compared with local authority inspectors, and AIs receive the lowest number of complaints in the Building Control industry. Preventing skilled AIs from working on high-risk residential buildings will significantly reduce the overall competency of the building inspector regime in England and Wales.
This was not the intention of the Hackitt review, but it will be the consequence of its proposals.
The goal of reforms to the UK’s building and fire safety regime must be to deliver safer buildings while maintaining valuable capacity and competence in the sector as a whole.
Instead of asking whether a building inspector is from the public or private sector, we should ensure that both operate within a proper regulatory framework with independent oversight.
Paul Wilkins is chairman of the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors