Interview by Lexis Nexis News about Grenfell: Hackitt review overshadowed by consultation on flammab
This article was first published by LN News on 17 May 2018.
In an independent report investigating building regulations after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt, former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, has called for a 'radical rethink of the whole system and how it works'. However, her report stopped short of recommending a ban on flammable cladding--a much-criticised move that was effectively undermined by the government's subsequent call for a consultation on the banning of flammable cladding.
Hackitt's independent review, which builds on the findings of the interim report published in December 2017, attempts to address the fundamental problems underpinning the building regulations system failure, which she describes as 'a race to the bottom'. The final report sets out over 50 recommendations, the most important of which address the fact that:
• roles and responsibilities for building safety are overly ambiguous
• regulations and guidance are 'misunderstood and misinterpreted'
• the process that polices compliance with the regulations are 'weak and complex'
• there is widespread ignorance concerning the rules governing the industry
• the process for testing and certifying products is 'disjointed, confusing, unhelpful and lacking any sort of transparency'; and
• residents' voices are often unheard
Dame Judith recommended the introduction of a 'simple and effective mechanism' to monitor building safety, and called more 'rigorous enforcement powers' for regulators. She also called for clearer roles and responsibilities throughout the design and construction process to ensure that there was increased accountability for building safety.
Hackitt's appointment initially received criticism due to her former position as director at the Energy Saving Trust, an organisation that promotes insulation containing flammable foam. At the time, the government defended her as 'an independent and authoritative voice'.
However, Hackitt's desire to avoid 'simply adding more prescription or making amendments to the current system, such as restricting or prohibiting certain practices', in order to tackle the root causes of problems in the building sector, ultimately left her open to criticism. For example, the Association of British Insurers criticised the report for not tackling the 'fundamental issue of combustible materials on homes and businesses' and the Local Government Association called the report 'disappointing'.
Ultimately, the government's decision to call for a consultation on the banning of flammable cladding hours after the publication of the report has overshadowed Dame Judith's findings.
Indeed, as Sarah Schütte, of Schutte Consulting Limited--a bespoke legal consultancy firm for the construction industry-- argues, the report seeks to 'push the industry and the public sector to make bigger, cultural changes', rather than simply recommend the 'crude measure of a ban which would not solve the bigger problems suffered repeatedly by the construction industry'.
Gayle Monk, senior associate at Anthony Collins, concurs with this analysis, claiming that the 'robustness of the procurement process, and the needs of the contract itself, must be made paramount'. Monk goes further, arguing that the desire to simplify and standardise the procurement process, as outlined in the Public Contract Regulations 2015, has 'actually hamstrung public
purchasers in their ability to carry out proper financial due diligence over potential contractors, and has also magnified the risks for a public authority that wants to reject a potential contractor because of concerns over their technical competence, experience or reliability'.
Dame Judith's report is separate to the judge-led inquiry into the Grenfell fire, which will start taking evidence on 21 May.