Dame Hackitt welcomes progress on building fire safety reform

Out-Law News | 31 Jan 2019 | 11:02 am | 2 min. read

Early signs of a "culture change" with regards to building fire safety in England have been welcomed by the expert who led last year's UK government-backed review of the building regulations.

However, Dame Judith Hackitt told MPs that it was a "matter of some regret" that the government had waited seven months after the publication of her review before confirming that it would implement its recommendations in full. The delay meant that, despite good progress, some momentum had been lost, she told the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee.

The government announced in December that it would reform building and fire safety regulations in response to the Hackitt Review, which was published in May. Proposed reforms include more rigorous building standards; a greater role for residents, and tougher sanctions for those who break the rules, although many of the proposals will require further consultation.

The industry is already trialling new ways of working in response to the recommendations of the review, including by way of a government-backed 'early adopters' group. Housing minister James Brokenshire announced in December that these early adopters were developing a new building safety charter to demonstrate their commitment to putting safety first; a development which Hackitt particularly welcomed in her appearance before the committee.

Health and safety expert Katherine Metcalfe of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "The early adopters are a really important group of housing associations and providers, construction companies and facilities management contractors who have signed up to trial new systems which might be implemented by the government in response to the Hackitt Review. They will provide invaluable input to allow the government and industry to craft a workable system which raises the bar when it comes to building safety."

"It will be particularly interesting to see how they can use new technologies to create the so-called 'golden thread' of information for buildings in scope of the reforms," she said.

One of the central recommendations of the Hackitt Review was the creation of a digital 'golden thread' of information for every high risk building. This will be established at the start of the construction cycle and updated throughout the life cycle of the project. The building's owners will ultimately be responsible for maintaining the golden thread once the building is operational, and for transferring it to subsequent owners. Dame Hackitt told the committee that more needed to be done to centralise this information in the case of privately-owned buildings.

Dame Hackitt also addressed the construction product safety system in her evidence session. She said that the government would consult in the spring on strengthening the system, in response to her recommendation that the changes were needed to address what she said was a 'vicious cycle' of regulators producing ever more guidance to address industry assumptions that anything not explicitly ruled out was acceptable. The British Standards Institution (BSI) is also planning to consult on updating the fire testing standard for external cladding systems later this year, she said.

Housing minister Kit Malthouse responded to some of Dame Hackitt's criticisms of the government in a separate evidence session. He told the committee that the government's immediate priority had been to assess and remediate fire safety risk at existing high-rise buildings following the fatal fire at London's Grenfell Tower, and said that the timetable for implementing the recommended changes would be much clearer by the end of spring.

Malthouse told the committee that "significant progress" had been made to date in assessing both social and private sector buildings for combustible cladding and carrying out the necessary remediation works. The government also intends to review the 18 metre threshold in the combustible cladding ban that came into force in December, and to examine whether the ban should be extended beyond the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding caught by the initial ban, he said.