Amanda Stubbs, environmental law partner at Trowers & Hamlins, says a bold approach to post-Grenfell policymaking is needed.
The release of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety has been met with a degree of criticism and confusion, which may have been compounded by the government’s twin ’feel-good’ announcements with which it coincided: the government will consult on a ban on the use of combustible cladding on high rise buildings, and will pay £400m to remove Grenfell-style cladding from tower blocks belonging to councils and housing associations.
The review did not recommend a ban on specific materials, and nor did it provide practical solutions for implementing or funding its recommendations, which has drawn criticism from certain quarters, including the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Local Government Association.
But the review’s underlying message is that wholesale change is needed to our current systems of procurement, regulation and enforcement, which failed on multiple levels in the case of Grenfell Tower.
If the Government opts to pick just the low-hanging fruit – future cladding bans and funding removal of existing combustible material – there is a risk that the key recommendations of the review will be overlooked, and current procurement processes that lead to lowest-price bidding, inaccurate interpretation of the Building Regulations and inadequate enforcement of building and safety standards, will continue.
However, if implemented in full, the recommendations are likely to require primary legislation to enable the widespread changes to regulation and enforcement of fire safety in residential or mixed-use blocks with 10 or more storeys, and will require the creation of a new bespoke regulator.
Dame Judith’s review calls for greater clarity and continuity around responsibility for fire safety throughout the lifetime of high-rise buildings – from their initial design and construction through to occupation and long-term maintenance.
None of this will come cheaply, and although high-rise residential blocks arguably carry the greatest safety risks, many of the Review’s criticisms of existing systems apply equally to other types of development – such as poor product traceability, disjointed handovers between those responsible for safety at any given point of a building’s life, and failings in auditing and record-keeping – meaning that the Review could ultimately have very far-reaching effects.
The review is predicated on the need for a total transformation of a system that is not fit for purpose, but whether the Government will be prepared to accept such sweeping proposals for change, remains to be seen.
Amanda Stubbs is an environmental partner at Trowers & Hamlins.