Dame Judith Hackitt was right to resist pressure for a complete ban on combustible building cladding, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA)*.
The Association welcomed the findings of the independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety chaired by Dame Judith in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. It said the committee had made the right call by highlighting the sector’s “systemic problems” rather than focusing on one specific technical aspect.
“The Review has identified systemic failings in the way construction projects are designed, delivered and managed,” said BESA chief executive David Frise. “We now need to move forward with building regulations that focus on the whole lifecycle of buildings and have a tighter focus on competence and compliance.
“Dame Judith’s team spotted right at the start that it was not the building regulations themselves, but how they were applied and enforced that allowed a culture to develop, which led to the Grenfell tragedy. Banning cladding would not move that issue forward – it was the way in which the refurbishment of the tower was managed and delivered, as a whole, that should face scrutiny.”
The Review identified a major failing in that construction regularly starts before building control has signed off the design or is too far advanced for recommended fire safety work to be incorporated. The building’s quality is then further undermined by the lack of meaningful penalties for anyone found to be in breach of the regulations.
“We need output-based regulations reinforced by financial and criminal penalties that far outweigh any benefits you might gain from cutting corners,” said Mr Frise. “The cladding might have been the weak point in this particular project, but we need a system that flags up all potential threats.”
The industry already has a range of third party accredited competent person schemes in place that can support Dame Judith’s call for a more robust method of establishing professional competence, he added.
Mr Frise also linked the outcome of the Hackitt Review to this week’s full exposure of the financial scandal behind the collapse of Carillion.
“The system is failing on both the safety and financial fronts,” he said. “The MPs investigating Carillion have lacerated the company’s management for lining their own pockets while presiding over an unethical business model that was based on using SMEs as bankers to fund their cash flow.
“The two things are linked and are symptoms of an underlying disease. If you don’t care about the building you are designing and building, why would you worry about paying the people who build it?” said Mr Frise.
*The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) is the UK’s leading trade organisation for building engineering services contractors – representing the interests of firms active in the design, installation, commissioning, maintenance, control and management of engineering systems and services in buildings.