Building Regulation Debate puts Competency and Accountability Under the Spotlight


The Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA) participated in a lively and well-attended question time panel debate last night on the future of the UK Building Regulations.  Entitled ‘The Future of Building Regulations and Fire Management,’ the debate recognised that the industry is at a turning point and there is clearly concern the imminent publication of the Hackitt review will not address competency and accountability across the building sector.

With more than a hundred professionals from across the built environment packed into a conference suite at the Bloomsbury Hotel in central London, the debate was chaired by Building Magazine’s Technical Editor, Thomas Lane, and featured a panel of industry experts including Jane Duncan, RIBA Immediate Past President; Iain Cox, Chair, Business Sprinkler Alliance; Tom Roche, Senior Consultant, FM Global, and Steve Cooper of fire engineering consultancy, Tenos.

As the industry anxiously awaits the report from Dame Judith Hackitt later this month, the panel addressed concerns of what the report could mean for the industry and how regulations and guidance should change. There is a great deal of confusion around the Regulations and their guidance, something that was reiterated by both the panel and audience. There is also a pressing need for the review to be broad enough to allow a much wider look at how we make our buildings resilient in terms of property protection as well as life safety.

Commenting on the industry post-Grenfell, Jane Duncan, RIBA Immediate Past President said: “While the tragedy focused national and international attention upon the fire safety of tower blocks and complex buildings, specifically in terms of fire management and protection, it also raised significant questions of the entire built environment sector including whether the procurement, design, management and construction of buildings, as written, is actually fit-for-purpose.”

“As an industry, we need to look at ourselves.  We need to be clear about our social and ethically responsibility, and the impact our decisions have on a basic human right – our safety,” she added.

The need for competent, thorough, professional oversight, and continuing responsibility and accountability was a theme throughout the debate, and this was reiterated by fire engineer Steve Cooper of Tenos: “We need to recognise that buildings are complex and sophisticated, and you need competency throughout the whole design, build and operating process.”

While he expected direction from the report, but not a lot of definitive answers, Tom Roche of FM Global, said: “I expect there to be more of a call for responsibility and competency, and I believe that will extend beyond between what we build and buildings in-use. I expect there to be a call for stronger enforcement and a more narrow focus for the review.”

He later added: “We have got here through complacency.  We thought fire was under control, but if we don’t maintain that vigilance, we will sadly see the return of another disaster.”

The panel discussed the chain of responsibility and the need for a ‘golden thread’ for all complex and high risk building projects, so that the original design intent is preserved and any changes go through a formal review process.

On the subject of fragmentation across the sector, Iain Cox, Chairman of the Business Sprinkler Alliance emphasised the need for a formal sign-over: “We really do need to know who is accountable and who they are at any one point,” he said. “We must also make whatever we do, future proof. We also need to look at competency and purpose groups.”

As the debate continued the panel spoke of a ‘clear opportunity’ for a culture change within the industry. However, they also voiced concerns that many questions need answering.  A call was made for a thorough review of Building Regulations and the associated guidance; one which wrestled with the root of the regulation’s issue and with a view to modifying the latter every three to five years.

An ongoing review cycle was indicated to be needed to ensure that Approved Document B (ADB) was fully applicable to today’s built environment, to avoid “gaps”  to ensure it will be completely ‘in-sync’ with all the ambitious technologies and designs present in modern properties.