Independent review of building regulations and fire safety: next steps Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Reaction to the Review

1.The Independent Review was right to highlight the need for significant cultural change in the industry, with greater accountability and clear sanctions that act as a real deterrent to those that break the rules. We agree that the building regulations require simplification, that fire safety should be addressed throughout the life-cycle of a building, and that residents require a more meaningful voice to challenge fire-safety processes in their homes. We also support Dame Judith’s proposed model for a more robust whistleblowing process. (Paragraph 12)

2.While the Independent Review focused on high-risk residential buildings of 10-storeys or more, many of these recommendations could and should be applied to a wider range of buildings and to the construction industry as a whole. The Government must therefore take as wide an approach as possible to the applicability and implementation of the recommendations in the Final Report. (Paragraph 13)

3.The Independent Review’s proposal for a Joint Competent Authority has the support of a range of stakeholders. However, care must be taken to avoid the duplication of responsibilities and a lack of clarity over lines of accountability, while ensuring that JCAs will be sufficiently independent to ensure they are able to take enforcement action against their own local authorities. (Paragraph 16)

4.In the context of building inspection services, we particularly welcome Dame Judith’s proposal that the industry should no longer be able to choose their own regulator and that there should be a single regulatory route for oversight of high-rise residential buildings through Local Authority Building Control. Indeed, we believe this principle should apply to a much wider range of buildings. (Paragraph 18)

5.There is no binary choice between having an outcomes-based system with greater accountability, robust regulatory oversight and strengthened sanctions on the one hand, and prescription on the other hand. The two are not mutually exclusive; as Dame Judith herself acknowledged, it is possible to do both. We want to see a system in which a reformed industry can be trusted to put fire safety first, with a robust system of oversight and meaningful sanctions, but underpinned by a strong, prescriptive approach to ensure minimum standards and guarantee the safety of residents. (Paragraph 22)

Updating and improving the current guidance

6.It is disappointing that the Independent Review did not address the specific, short-term changes that need to be made to the Building Regulations. In this specific respect, we believe the Independent Review did not fully meet the requirement in its terms of reference to reassure residents that their homes are, or will be made, safe. However, we note that Dame Judith has subsequently called for an immediate review of the Building Regulations. The Government must immediately take forward its review of the current guidance as a matter of urgency, with the intention of publishing an updated version of Approved Document B before the end of the year. (Paragraph 27)

7.We are pleased that the Government has signalled its intention to ban the use of materials which are not of limited combustibility in the cladding of high-rise buildings, despite the failure of the Independent Review to make such a recommendation. We support the Government’s proposal to adopt the European classification system for combustible materials and require the use of Class A1 or A2 materials, bringing England into line with other EU Members States and Scotland. (Paragraph 36)

8.We believe such a ban should apply not only to new high-rise buildings, but also to existing buildings over 18 metres, as well as those currently under construction. People in all high-rise residential buildings need to have certainty that their homes are safe. Further, the ban should apply to non-residential buildings where there is a particular and significant risk to life, such as residential homes, hospitals, student accommodation and hotels. Upon the completion of the consultation, the Government must, as a matter of the greatest urgency, bring forward the ban on the use of combustible materials in the cladding of these buildings. (Paragraph 37)

9.The Government should fully fund the replacement of any cladding on existing buildings which had been permitted, but is subsequently banned as a consequence of the consultation. In those circumstances, this funding should be made available to both public and private sector landlords. (Paragraph 38)

10.As part of this inquiry, we received various test reports relating to how cladding systems using materials classified as being of limited combustibility performed under large-scale tests, a number of which were performed outside of the UK. Given the necessary technical expertise required, the Committee does not see its role as interpreting the results of such tests, or determining or their implications. The Secretary of State was right to call for further research into these claims. (Paragraph 39)

11.We do not believe it is sufficient to solely require the use of materials of limited combustibility in cladding systems; these systems should additionally be subject to full-scale fire tests to ensure their safety. In this context, the Government should also take due regard to our conclusions and recommendations on BS 8414 large-scale tests made later in this Report. (Paragraph 40)

12.We are unconvinced that Approved Document B bans the use of combustible materials as an external surface. Notwithstanding steps to ban the use of combustible materials on high-rise buildings, and its wider plans for the revision of Approved Document B, the Government must urgently revise Sections 12.5 to 12.7 of Approved Document B to provide much-needed clarity to the guidance as to what is, and what is not, acceptable. (Paragraph 45)

13.The Independent Review was right to call for a more effective testing regime. It is clear that, while the BS 8414 test has many advocates, it does not have the full support of the entire industry. The Government should work with fire safety experts and the industry to agree a new testing regime that has much wider industry support and can be fully trusted. A new system should better reflect real-world conditions, reach near-incontestable conclusions, and be more transparent, with details of test failures and re-run tests made publicly available. (Paragraph 49)

14.Where Fire Rescue Authorities have established commercial trading arms to provide fire safety advice, there is a clear conflict of interest when they are also the enforcement authority. In any industry, it is clearly dangerous to allow an organisation to approve its own work. The Government should immediately prohibit this practice. (Paragraph 53)

15.It is concerning that some manufacturers are known to shop-around for the most lenient product testing bodies in the expectation of an easier certification process. As highlighted earlier in the context of building inspection services, there is a clear conflict of interest where manufacturers and builders are able to choose who marks their homework. (Paragraph 55)

16.The Government and the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) should do more to ensure that all product testing bodies operate to the same high standards. The Government must take steps to ensure manufacturers are not incentivised to choose the most lenient testing bodies. It is vital that we create a system in which all approved testing bodies operating in the industry are fully-independent from the companies and products they are testing. Testing bodies should also publish their test failure rates, so there can be greater transparency and benchmarking within the industry. (Paragraph 56)

17.The Government must be careful to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest when working with private sector companies on the content or application of the Building Regulations, particularly where such companies may have a direct financial interest in the provision of services required under those regulations. (Paragraph 59)

18.We reiterate our view that the over-use of desktop studies is a contributory factor to a weaker, less stringent regulatory regime and increases the likelihood of dangerous materials being used on high-rise buildings. However, providing that materials which are not of limited combustibility will be banned from the cladding of high-rise buildings following the Government’s consultation, there are some circumstances in which a full-scale fire test may not be necessary. Nevertheless, desktop studies should always be based on primary test evidence. The Government should publish clear guidance outlining the specific circumstances in which desktop studies may be permitted to be used. (Paragraph 64)

19.Where structurally feasible, sprinklers should be retro-fitted to existing high-rise residential buildings to provide an extra layer of safety for residents. The Government should make funding available to fit sprinklers into council and housing association-owned residential buildings above 18 metres, and issue guidance to that affect to building owners in the private sector. (Paragraph 68)

20.We heard strong evidence recommending the Government require sprinkler systems be installed in a wider range of buildings, including student accommodation, hospitals and large commercial warehouses. The Government should undertake a consultation into whether it would be appropriate to require the installation of sprinkler systems in these buildings too. (Paragraph 69)

21.Our panels of industry representatives and fire safety experts have suggested a number of further sensible measures to improve the regulatory framework. We call on the Government to consider each of these proposals carefully prior to its planned statement later in the year on next steps and reflect on them in its response to this Report. (Paragraph 71)

22.We are concerned that conflicts of interest are pervasive within the industry. From builders choosing their own inspection services, manufacturers selecting product testers for their perceived leniency, Fire Rescue Authorities inspecting the work of their own commercial trading arms, to private sector companies’ influence over the fire safety guidance in which they have a commercial interest. If the Government is to restore public confidence in the construction industry, then it must—as a matter of urgency—tackle the conflicts of interest that exist throughout the system. (Paragraph 73)

Government support for building owners and leaseholders

23.It is right that the Government has committed to supporting local authorities and housing associations to fully fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding. It is disappointing that this has been funded from the budget for the Affordable Homes Programme and we strongly urge the Government to find a new source for this funding. We are also concerned about the length of time it is taking to distribute funding to local authorities and housing associations, and call on the Government to set out a clear timetable for this. (Paragraph 77)

24.It is deeply concerning to hear that steps being taken to remove dangerous combustible cladding from buildings, far from making tower blocks safer, could be putting residents’ lives at further risk. As we have already done in correspondence, we again call on the Government to urgently identify all affected buildings and take immediate action to address the problem. (Paragraph 80)

25.More than a year has passed since the Grenfell Tower fire and it is unacceptable that so many private buildings continue to have unsafe cladding. This is a difficult and complex legal situation and, while the Government says it will rule out no options, it is unclear what more they can do to compel private building owners to act or whether they should be liable for this work in the context of the ambiguity of the current guidance for external surfaces. These delays are unfair on leaseholders and cannot continue. (Paragraph 84)

26.Furthermore, it is clear that the ownership and responsibility of privately owned buildings is often complex. For example, some of these blocks do not have a single ‘building owner’, rather an owner of the modest freehold ground rent and the constituent long-leaseholders, the latter often being the only parties with a contractual obligation to carry out remedial works. We therefore recommend that the Government conduct an urgent review into responsibility and liability of such buildings to ensure the necessary work can be carried out for the safety of residents, which is paramount. The Government should then produce further subsequent guidance for building owners. (Paragraph 85)

27.While it is encouraging that an insurance company has recently accepted a claim to pay for remedial work on a private sector development in Greenwich, nevertheless, more needs to be done now to ensure that unsafe cladding is removed urgently. To avoid any further delay, we propose that the Government introduces a low-interest loan scheme for private sector building owners, to ensure that remedial work is carried out as quickly as possible and that costs need not immediately be passed on to leaseholders. (Paragraph 86)

28.As we indicated earlier, we believe it would be unfair for private sector building owners or long leaseholders to be made liable for the costs of remedial work if the building fully complied with the building regulations at the time of construction or if the work was signed-off by Local Authority Building Control. In such circumstances, the cost of remedial work should fall to the Government. (Paragraph 87)

Published: 18 July 2018