Iain Cox, Chairman of the Business Sprinkler Alliance
Following the announcement this week by the Minister of Housing, Government, Communities and Local Government to implement the Hackitt Review in full, the BSA welcomes the news the recommendations will be taken forward, but there remains a real concern about the details and the direction of travel. In short, what will this mean for the industry in practice?
One of the key recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt in her report, Building a Safer Future – Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, was the Joint Competent Authority. Although we can fully support the JCA focusing on high-rise residential buildings, the risk inherent in many buildings, industrial and commercial, although not of the same magnitude, is still too high. The JCA is a sound idea, but much depends on how it is set-up. If you have to liaise with people from building control, the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS), as well as regional health and safety inspectors in a different county each week, I’m not sure it’s a workable solution.
To be effective, the JCA needs to have competent people from health and safety, building control and the FRS, working as a team. Otherwise we will retain the fragmented process, identified by Dame Judith. We also need to make sure the JCA is acting independently and in the public interest. They are not working for the builder or developer but are truly independent. This has to be a workable process and resourced appropriately, which is why the funding process alluded to by Dame Judith is so important.
The intention is that the industry will fund this, but what does this mean if it ends up with the people doing the paying calling the shots? It should not be possible to ‘bargain’ your way through the system.
Hackitt’s interim report was more general, while the final report focused on HRRB (High risk residential buildings) and a ‘few others’. It’s not clear what these other buildings are. Running a two-tier system will mean developers may well opt for a building height slightly smaller than a 10-storey HRRB, which in turn will not do justice to those buildings that are deemed to be not as risky.
Furthermore, whatever fire precautions that are provided within a building, it only takes some neglect or ignorance for that to change. Hackitt recommends layers of protection to make a building safe. Sprinklers do provide a safety net on buildings and are proven time and time again to be both effective and efficient in a wide range of fire scenarios and building types.
Building bad buildings is bad business. On the other hand, building good fire-resilient buildings is good business and while it will cost some people a little more upfront, we will end up having buildings that are fit for purpose. The problem is that this is not recognised in the current property marketplace
I would contend that these regulatory changes need to apply to all but the simplest buildings, not just the multi-occupancy, higher risk residential buildings of 10 storeys or more. We need a system that allows for new materials and innovative practices and acknowledges that an unregulated system will inevitably run out of control. We should not have to learn from our mistakes time and again.