There is a ‘clear case’ for retrofitting sprinklers to older tower blocks, the leader of the independent review of building regulations told MPs.
Under cross examination by the House of Commons communities and local government select committee yesterday (18 December 2017), Dame Judith Hackitt said that she had been ‘surprised’ that there is no regulatory requirement to bring buildings up to modern standards when improvement works are carried out.
“There is a clear case for looking at added layers of protection,” said Dame Judith, who appeared before the committee shortly after the publication of an interim report from an independent review set up in response to June’s Grenfell Tower disaster.
“All additional ways of providing protection are valuable,” she said, adding that additional measures could include improved doors and staircases as well as sprinklers.
But the former Health and Safety Executive chief executive said that the degree of improvement would depend on the nature of the building and its occupants.
And she said there was ‘confusion’ between building regulations and guidance.
“I found that there is a great deal of confusion between what is regulation and what is guidance. I would want to see a system that is simple, streamlined, risk based and proportionate. I don’t believe that the guidance in particular has been written with the user in mind.”
She said that any review of building regulations should be risk-based and not deter development by increasing costs.
“I am very conscious that there is a social need for housing in the UK today and I clearly don’t want to stand in the way of that because of cost.”
Ms Hackitt also said that her review had uncovered evidence that insurers were ‘uncomfortable’ about not having sufficient information about the high-rise buildings which they cover.
“They share concerns about some of the lack of information that is available to them but they recognise their social responsibility and were clear that they choose to underwrite things even though they may not have all the information because it would irresponsible to refuse to insure the buildings.”
She also said that there should be fixed timescales for ensuring that fire risk assessments have been conducted in high rise blocks.
“Fire risk assessments should be done annually even if there are no modifications and should be made available to the residents.”
The interim report described the current system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise buildings as not fit for purpose.
It said landlords should also share primary responsibility for ensuring buildings they commission are safe in the event of fire, while accountability "must rest with clearly identifiable senior individuals and not be wholly dispersed through the supply chain".
The report also said landlords should not be waiting on direction from the review before acting on safety, particularly around their choice of materials to replace cladding.