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The Hackitt report: a “golden thread” to guide the construction industry?

05 June 2018 #Construction


Dame Judith Hackitt recently published her report, Building a Safer Future.  The report was commissioned by the Government as an independent review of Building Regulations and fire safety, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire last year.

The Hackitt report is not what many hoped it would be: many have focused on the fact that the report does not ban combustible cladding, or make specific recommendations for fire systems in high rise buildings.  Arguably, it does something far more important.  It pins down and highlights the failings which pervade the culture of the construction industry, and it sets out recommendations for a major shakeup to building control.  In doing so, it outlines a new vision for the building control process, with the aim of increasing productivity, reducing costs, and ensuring quality developments.  The goal is good outcomes for those who will use, live and work in buildings in the future.

The problems with the current regulatory framework governing building control and fire safety for high rise residential building are stark:

  • The regulatory and legislative framework is unclear and complex
  • The regulations and guidance can be ambiguous and inconsistent
  • The system is beset with complex compliance processes which easily crumble in the face of poor record keeping and change control
  • The product testing, labelling and marketing regime, described as “opaque and insufficient”, is deeply flawed
  • Those working with the system do not always have the necessary competence to do so

The report is clear that these issues cannot be addressed in relation to high rise residential buildings alone.  They are symptomatic of wider issues within the construction industry, such as the skills shortage, and fragmentation or “silo thinking”.  Hackitt highlights a failure by the industry to recognise itself as a service industry delivering products to end users. In turn this leads to a focus on costs, rather than quality, meaning that safety and quality are not always prioritised as they should be.  Together these represent a cultural issue which manifests as a “race to the bottom”.

It is clear that there is a need to drive not just regulatory change, but a culture change.  That wider aspiration underpins the new regulatory framework proposed by the Hackitt report, which will:

  • Simplify and streamline the existing building control regulatory and legislative framework
  • Be governed by one new regulator, the Joint Competent Authority (JCA), combining the roles and expertise of building control, the fire & rescue service, and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE)
  • Set out clear dutyholder roles and responsibilities, which will broadly align with those in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015
  • Prescribe a change control process requiring robust record keeping of all changes to plans previously approved by the JCA, with permission required for more significant changes
  • Give the JCA wider and more flexible enforcement powers to ensure that more rigorous penalties are applied to those who commit the worst breaches. The hope is that this will incentivise the construction of reliably safe buildings

The Hackitt report also recommends:

  • A shake-up of the product testing regime, with more stringent testing requirements and clarity in specification, labelling and marketing of products. This is expected to lead to wider use of more standard and high quality product-combining systems
  • Improving levels of competence and ensuring a minimum standard by putting in place an overarching body to oversee and promote professional competency within the construction and fire safety sector
  • Enhanced maintenance and improvement obligations on an identified dutyholder with responsibility for the safety of the whole building, and equivalent clarity of rights and obligations for residents
  • Measures to tackle poor procurement practices, to ensure that safety and full life cycle cost are appropriately prioritised at the start of a project

The proposed change control process, and associated record keeping requirements, link to the recommendation for a digital record for every building: a “golden thread of information” about each high rise residential building.  But why not for all buildings?  A single repository of information, from initial design through construction and to all subsequent changes throughout occupation, would benefit all end users of buildings.  Software developers maintain detailed design and change logs, detailing what changes have been made and why: why shouldn’t we have the equivalent for the buildings we live, shop, relax and work in, to ensure that they are and continue to be safe and fit for purpose?  Such a record would help ensure accountability for decisions and dis-incentivise corner-cutting for the sake of cost.

We are aware of a developer in North London who is currently building a range of residential and mixed-use buildings with exactly this goal in mind. As a build to rent developer who will take on responsibility for managing the development, they’ve insisted on full transparency on data. The information used to construct the project through an integrated model will be used to manage and maintain it in future.

The Hackitt report itself will not bring about change.  That will require government funding and support.  However, as the report itself says, the review process highlighted genuine willingness to support and bring about real and lasting change.  Even if the necessary legislation is not forthcoming, at least in the immediate, that does not mean that the industry, and those working within it, should not take notice of the recommendations made and begin taking what steps they can to embed the principles promoted in the Hackitt report in their organisations and working practices.

Clarkslegal, specialist Construction lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Construction matter please contact Clarkslegal's construction team by email at constructionsector@clarkslegal.com by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.

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Hannah Mycock-Overell

Hannah Mycock-Overell
Senior Solicitor

E: hmycockoverell@clarkslegal.com
T: 0118 960 4667
M: 0782 500 1818

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