Grenfell: the dawn of a new regulator?
Bill Dunkerley

Two weeks after the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower Dame Judith Hackitt, former Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, was commissioned to prepare an Independent Report in respect of building regulations and fire safety. Her final Report was published in May 2018, with the Government’s positive response being provided in December 2018. The Government will consult further on her recommendations from Spring 2019.

Chief amongst Dame Hackitt’s findings was that the regulatory system relating to high rise and complex buildings was not, “fit for purpose,” and that the prevailing culture within the construction sector motivated duty holders to compete in a, “race to the bottom.”

In total the report made 53 recommendations, of which a primary suggestion was the establishment of a Joint Competent Authority (‘JCA’), comprising of representatives from the HSE, local authority building control and the fire and rescue services, which would operate to help identify the relevant roles and responsibilities of duty holders, as well as to drive cultural change amongst regulators, the construction sector and building owners.

A number of other proposals were also made in an effort to clarify the roles and responsibilities of relevant duty holders, and to help improve standards across the entire lifecycle of building construction and usage. For example, the Report proposed to establish a database of all High Risk Residential Buildings (HRRBs), detailing the relevant duty holders for all such buildings, as well as introducing a more robust testing regime in respect of construction materials generally.

Pending implementation, the Government proposes the establishment of a Joint Regulator’s Group to trial the proposed new framework before the introduction of relevant legislation. This will help assess the likely financial and human resource costs of the JCA.

Whilst the Government has agreed, “in principle,” with the majority of the Report’s recommendations, it remains unclear how the JCA will achieve its proposed aims in practice. For example, it is not clear at this stage whether the JCA will be a local or national organisation, if it will be a collaboration between representatives, or whether it will take the form of an entirely new entity. Given the already stretched resources of the HSE and local authorities, questions can also be asked as to how the JCA will be funded.
On a practical level, whilst the Government has stated that it wishes for the JCA to be established, “as soon as possible,” no specific timeframe has been indicated despite it being already 18 months since the Grenfell fire.

The Report states that the JCA will initially only apply to residential buildings of 10 storeys or more, which serves to exclude a large number of buildings, including care homes and hospitals, from its remit. The suggestion also within the Report that there be a greater emphasis on safety at the procurement stage leads to the conclusion that increased costs are likely to be incurred prior to works being undertaken, which may not correlate well with commercial reality and industry norms.

Whilst the recommendations absolutely are to be welcomed and seek to achieve a sea-change within the industry, presently the finer details are lacking. Therefore it will be interesting to observe and consider the responses to the Government’s consultation in due course.
If you have any queries or would like to discuss any of the matters raised, please contact Bill Dunkerley on 0161 393 9087

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