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Hackitt calls for 'radical overhaul' but no combustibles ban

A report on Building Regulations and fire safety post-Grenfell has called for a “radical overhaul” of the way high-rise blocks are designed, constructed and refurbished, but stopped short of proposing a ban on the use of combustible cladding. 

The report, by engineer Dame Judith Hackitt, called for a new regulatory system to be set up around the lifecycle of buildings over 10 storeys, as well as creating a procurement environment that prioritises safety over lowest cost.

The report does not recommend a ban on combustible cladding products, despite calls from politicians and industry leaders for them to be outlawed. 

However, the government has now announced a consultation on banning combustible cladding just hours after the report’s publication.

Dame Hackitt said ignorance of Building Regulations, lack of clarity of roles and an insistence to drive down price had created a “race to the bottom” in the construction and refurbishment of buildings.

“There is insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe,” her report says. 

Dame Hackitt was commissioned to carry out the report following the fire at Grenfell Tower last June, which claimed the lives of 71 people.

Grenfell: Hackitt Report recommendations

  • A new regulatory framework for all high-rise buildings over 10 storeys should be set up.
  • Government should establish a Joint Competent Authority (JCA) to oversee the management of safety risks throughout a building’s lifecycle. The body should comprise LA building standards, fire and rescue and HSE.
  • A mandatory incident reporting system should be set up for duty-holders including contractors with concerns about safety.
  • Rigorous set of roles and responsibilities for duty-holders should be drawn up. These should broadly align with those set out in Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015.
  • A series of robust gateway points should be put in place for every high-rise project to pass through to ensure they meet building and fire safety regs. There will be three gateways that need to be passed at planning, design and construction.
  • Any changes on a building will need to be signed off by the JCA; more significant changes will need approval by the JCA.
  • More rigorous enforcement of powers. A wider range of powers will be given to authorities, with more serious penalties against firms for those that do not comply.
  • A new overarching body to be created in the construction sector to provide oversight of competence requirements and training for those carrying out construction work.
  • Create a new more effective testing regime for construction products including clearer product labelling and product traceability.
  • A new digital record to be created for all new high-rise buildings that will chart work and changes from design right through construction up to occupation.
  • Poor procurement should be tackled so that high-safety and low-risk options are prioritised above cost when a building is procured.

The review was launched after government tests in the wake of Grenfell found more than 80 high-rise blocks did not meet fire safety standards.

It was tasked with scrutinising high-rise blocks and the use of cladding after questions were raised over the use of aluminium composite material (ACM) panels in towers similar to Grenfell.

In her interim report in December 2017, Dame Hackitt called for a “universal shift in culture” towards fire safety and an overhaul of Building Regulations system, which she deemed “not fit for purpose”.

The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire begins next week.

In March, a number of contractors that worked on the building were named as core participants on the inquiry, including Rydon, which carried out the £9m upgrade of the block.

Senior Labour MPs have called for a complete ban of combustible cladding and insulation on high-rise blocks.

The calls were included in a letter by shadow housing secretary John Healey to housing secretary James Brokenshire yesterday, which also demanded a ban on the desktop studies of building materials.

The report is the latest damning assessment to come out following the Grenfell tragedy.

In April, a leaked report from BRE looking into the Grenfell fire found the building’s overall refurbishment fell short of building standards and aided the spread of the fire.

The report by BRE said if the tower had not been re-clad the fire would have likely been contained to just one flat. It also stated the PVC window frames installed in the building “acted as a fuel for the fire”.

Prime minister Theresa May yesterday pledged to fund the removal of all dangerous cladding from tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations, a move that could cost an estimated £400m.

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