Joint Publisher Anthony Parker

James Parker


Following the publication of her review into the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt said the system of regulation and oversight in construction is “broken,” and you can only conclude that she believes that the devastating fire may have been the result. However, questions abound following the final report’s publication last month, centering around what happens next, and whether that system will really change.

Another big question is why what was billed as a review of regulations was in fact never actually set up to do that. Hackitt, an engineer, commented on publication of the interim report: “A systemic review of the regulations by a non-expert in construction was never going to recommend detailed changes to the technical requirements – this is beyond my area of competence.”

According to many voices across the industry, it is the complexity and ambiguity in the Building Regulations and product testing sphere which is the real problem – if it’s not built to fail, it is certainly open to varied interpretations. However Hackitt, perhaps guided by DCLG, decided that the way forward is a more broad-brush reform, ostensibly because there are so many issues to tackle.


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The proposed overarching ‘framework’ seems to be more about changing behaviour than regulation. However straight after the report’s release, and perhaps sensing a looming backlash against a failure to tackle glaring issues such as the ‘desktop studies’ used in lieu of third-party testing on products, new Housing Secretary James Brokenshire jumped into the fray in the Commons. He told MPs: “The inappropriate use of desktop studies is unacceptable,” and that he “will not hesitate to ban them if the consultation [which closed on the 25th of May], does not demonstrate they can be used safely.”

On one hand, it is to his credit that he has been unequivocal, but is this focus on desktop studies also somewhat missing the point? A failure to achieve clarity on who is responsible for policing compliance with regulations – currently a multi-faceted prism of professionals – leaves room for risk- dumping by the less scrupulous.

Hackitt is looking at this, with a new overseeing regulatory body plus “dutyholders” to enforce correct specification on each project. However even with new legislative teeth, will they be able to better referee the game if the rules are not fit for purpose? Giving the referees red cards rather than telling the players to be better behaved might be the way to real change, but whether the Government has the will to lead the thoroughgoing investigation needed into regs, with Brexit currently in limbo, is easy to guess.


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Many ‘combustible’ materials are used in construction, and can be used safely with the right procedures and designs in place. It’s surely a question of how robust the process of design, testing and accreditation is, and whether there is an enforcement process which will prevent corners being cut? Surely the rules need to be crystal clear, and the industry can’t be left to sort it out?

James Parker

Managing Editor James Parker

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