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 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:
The Hackitt report also recommends:
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.