Action after Grenfell: Is the Hackitt review on track?
Response to the interim report from the Hackitt Review
Calls for change have been deafening since a fire devastated Grenfell Tower last June, and in mid-December Dame Judith Hackitt published the much-anticipated interim report from her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. This dispatch from the ongoing review was never going to feel like enough for many, understandably impatient for the wrongs which led to the catastrophic blaze to be made right.
Hackitt communicated a clear, condemnatory message. She described the current system of regulation as “not fit for purpose” and in need of an overhaul. She detailed a range of major flaws in a system that is “gamed and worked around in many areas”.
Cost-cutting, complexity and conflicts of interest
Hackitt, a former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, described her shock at the practices that have become widespread under the current regulatory system. She noted that the current system facilitates cost-cutting, which can lead to the use of less safe building materials. Different players have been able to dodge their responsibilities for safety because the available guidance is so complex and open to misinterpretation, Hackett reported. (She noted a pile of all the guidance documents which accompany the regulations stood around 2 ft high).
She also criticised the privatisation of building inspection which has led to conflicts of interest, with private inspectors and developers becoming dangerously dependent on each other.
As well as highlighting the need for better defined responsibilities within the construction industry, Hackitt pointed out the lack of effective channels for residents to raise their concerns. Grenfell residents had expressed serious doubts about the safety of their building, but the management company did not take action.
Some industry bodies may have been disappointed by the lack of specifics as yet - there was no mention of a ban on the use of flammable materials, such as that used in the cladding on Grenfell Tower. However, many politicians, housing federations, health and safety and fire industry bodies have welcomed the content of the interim report. Hackitt has assured that the finished report, due in spring, would specifically address sprinklers, cladding, alarm systems and escape routes.
On 22nd January, Hackitt is inviting representatives of the building industry and government to a summit, to discuss the next steps needed to kickstart the “universal shift in culture”. She described her December report as a “call to action”, but what actions can building firms start taking now?
From the shocking practice she has uncovered so far, Hackitt must know that a new enforceable framework is needed urgently for change to come.