Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
October 16, 2019

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Queen’s speech

Government promises to go beyond Hackitt recommendations

Government plans to implement all recommendations made in the post-Grenfell review of building regulations and fire safety have been cautiously welcomed.

Despite Brexit’s capacity to drown out other issues, Monday’s Queen’s Speech revealed plans to go beyond the 53 recommendations issued by Dame Judith Hackitt, who chaired the review.

“A new safety framework for high-rise residential buildings” reflects a focus on multi-storey buildings since the 24-storey Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will oversee the introduction of a new building safety regulator. First mooted in June, such a regulator was deemed unnecessary in Dame Judith’s original report. Housing secretary Robert Jenrick tweeted that the new regulator would have “powers to enforce criminal sanctions”.

Another measure omitted from Hackitt’s recommendations – a ban on the use of combustible cladding on buildings higher than 18m – has already been enacted.

A stronger voice for residents

In a document published after the Queen’s Speech, the government also promised:

  • “Clear accountability for, and stronger duties on, those responsible for the safety of high-rise buildings throughout the building’s design, construction and occupation, with clear competence requirements to ensure high standards are upheld”
  • A “stronger voice in the system” for residents and better understanding of “how they can contribute to maintaining safety in their buildings”
  • New sanctions for those who flout the new rules and tougher performance standards for construction products
  • A new system to “oversee the whole built environment, with local enforcement agencies and national regulators working together to ensure that the safety of all buildings is improved”
  • Developers of new houses will have to join a new homes ombudsman – a ”watchdog that champions homebuyers, protects their interests and holds developers to account”

The focus on fire safety reflects fire safety’s steep ascent up the list of government priorities after decades of complacency fuelled by falling fire deaths and casualties.

Nevertheless, Jonathan O’Neill OBE, managing director of the Fire Protection Association, has previously blasted the Tory administration for developing “policy on the hoof” in response to the worst residential fire in living memory.

Cynics have also suggested that with an imminent election seen as inevitable, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans are more about electioneering than setting out a programme backed by a mandate.

Whichever party gets into power, it seems likely wholesale reform is on the way.

Corbyn, who has been critical of the government’s slow response, offered a raft of other suggestions.

Responding to the Queen’s speech in the House of Commons he invited Johnson to “set a hard deadline for all landlords to replace dangerous cladding.” This was a reference to revelations that only 13 of 181 privately owned blocks with aluminium composite material (ACM) have completed remediation works.

Corbyn noted that no remediations of privately owned buildings had occurred since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July. The figures, published last week, also showed that 22 privately-owned buildings with ACM cladding didn’t even have clear remediation plans.

Housing minister Esther McVey recently said the government expected all private sector remediation work to be completed by June 2020, unless “exceptional circumstances” dictated otherwise.

Corbyn also called for a reversal of budget cuts to the fire service and tough sanctions against block owners who failed to fund the retrofitting of sprinklers in high-rise social housing blocks.

“Step forward”

Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF), offered a cautious welcome to the Queen’s speech: “The new building safety standards legislation announced in today’s Queen’s Speech is a significant step forward by this government and clearly builds upon Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review recommendations, which were welcomed by the BWF and its members at the time.

“However, in the context of ongoing political uncertainty, it’s crucial that the government doesn’t lose sight of this important bill and delivers on its pledges relating to resident safety and improved accountability across the construction industry, from manufacture to specification, installation and ongoing maintenance.

“Our hope is that this legislation will drive the vital change that the industry requires and will incorporate the need for independent third-party certification of life-saving fire safety measures to ensure high standards are adopted by all.

“The government must implement the new laws as soon as possible, ideally with support from opposition parties to ensure broad agreement, so that all residents can feel safe in their homes and to prevent further delays that could cost lives.”

The Federation of Master Builders tweeted: “New legislation announced in the #QueensSpeech on the implementation of building safety standards should be underpinned by a mandatory licensing scheme for UK construction companies.”

The National Housing Federation’s Twitter response, meanwhile, ran: “But many high rise buildings still need investment to make them safe. So the Government must go further, and commit to a wide-ranging Building Safety Fund in the Budget on 6 November to make sure this vital work can happen.”

 

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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Leon van der Linde
Leon van der Linde
October 18, 2019 10:51 am

Just a tip for British people when they visit South Africa. Don’t stay higher than the ground floor. This way you can get out quickly. The local buildings are very lethal and unsafe compared to British fire safety regulations.

Michael Floyd
Michael Floyd
October 18, 2019 6:07 pm

I won’t be holding my breath! lrpj