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    RIBA CRITICAL OF HACKITT REVIEW FINAL REPORT

    High rise residential review dismissed as “major missed opportunity”

    The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has given an initial response to the publication of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety by Dame Judith Hackitt.

    RIBA has welcomed some of the review findings, including the proposal to establish a Joint Competent Authority, bringing in the expertise of the HSE and Fire Brigades, to oversee a new fire safety regulatory framework for multiple occupancy ‘high-rise residential buildings’ (HRRBs). However, the Institute :

    ”is concerned by the absence of the clear baseline standards that would deliver clarity for the industry and, most importantly, provide protection for the public.”

    The report relates to HRRBs above 10 storeys although it is recognised in the report that the remit of the new regulatory framework could be widened to encompass a greater range of higher risk buildings in the future.

    New ‘risk ownership’ model

    HSE would have a key role in the new framework for HRRBs alongside local authority building standards and fire and rescue authorities.

    Those involved in the procurement, construction and maintenance of new HRRBs would attract duties broadly aligned with client, principal designer, principal contractor and contractor roles under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015).

    The report envisages that the client and principle designer would ‘sign off’ the building confirming compliance with building safety standards at completion. The principal contractor would be involved during construction and handover to the occupation and maintenance phase.

    Criminal legal proceedings may be initiated by the JCA in the event of non-compliance and the new authority would have powers to serve improvement and prohibition notices.

    The work of the JCA would be undertaken on a full cost recovery basis through a fee charging regime with fees at significantly higher levels that current building control fees.

    No ban on combustible materials

    Despite welcoming proposals for a new JCA the RIBA has highlighted that there is no recommendation to ban combustible materials in external wall construction on high-rise buildings nor for the provision of alternative means of escape, adding that desktop studies are simply re-branded as “assessments in lieu of test.”

    President Ben Derbyshire says:

    “This Review should have been a defining moment – a set of findings to bring real and meaningful change to the complexity and confusion surrounding core building regulations guidance. Whilst there are elements of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Review that we very much welcome, we are extremely concerned that it has failed to act on the urgent need to immediately protect life safety through a more detailed programme of simplified and improved regulations, standards and guidance. The Review recognises that the changes it recommends will require legislative change and take time to fully implement. In the meantime we are left with confusion and lack of clarity. We will be continuing to stress our detailed concerns to Government.”

    Chair of the RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, Jane Duncan says:

    “Focusing on just a small number of very high buildings is a major missed opportunity. By failing to ban the use of combustible materials and ‘desktop’ studies, or require use of sprinklers, the report’s recommendations will not deliver the immediate change that is needed to reassure and safeguard the public.”

    The RIBA Expert Group on Fire Safety set out four key recommendations for baseline prescriptive requirements:

    • Non-combustible cladding – external wall construction for existing or new buildings with a storey 18m or more above ground to be comprised of non-combustible (European class A1) materials only;
    • More than one means of escape – in all new multiple occupancy residential buildings, a requirement for at least two staircases, offering alternative means of escape, where the top floor is more than 11m above ground level or the top floor is more than three storeys above the ground level storey (as required for commercial buildings);
    • Sprinklers – retro-fitting of sprinklers / automatic fire suppression systems and centrally addressable fire alarm systems to existing residential buildings above 18m from ground level as “consequential improvements” where a building is subject to ‘material alterations.'; and
    • Mandatory requirement – for sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems and addressable central fire alarms in all new and converted residential buildings, as already required in Wales.

    The RIBA will be hosting a fire safety conference, Protecting Lives: Design and Construction Post Grenfell, on 12 June, 9:30am to 5pm.

    Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety

    Recommendations

    “The recommendations are summarised below.

    The key parameters of a new regulatory framework (set out in Chapter 1) will establish:

    • A new regulatory framework focused, in the first instance, on multi-occupancy higher risk residential buildings (HRRBs) that are 10 storeys or more in height;
    • A new Joint Competent Authority (JCA) comprising Local Authority Building Standards, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive to oversee better management of safety risks in these buildings (through safety cases) across their entire life cycle;
    • A mandatory incident reporting mechanism for dutyholders with concerns about the safety of a HRRB.

    Improving the focus on building safety during the design, construction and refurbishment phases (set out in Chapter 2) through:

    • A set of rigorous and demanding dutyholder roles and responsibilities to ensure a stronger focus on building safety. These roles and responsibilities will broadly align with those set out in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015;
    • A series of robust gateway points to strengthen regulatory oversight that will require dutyholders to show to the JCA that their plans are detailed and robust; that their understanding and management of building safety is appropriate; and that they can properly account for the safety of the completed building in order to gain permission to move onto the next phase of work and, in due course, allow their building to be occupied;
    • A stronger change control process that will require robust record-keeping by the dutyholder of all changes made to the detailed plans previously signed off by the JCA. More significant changes will require permission from the JCA to proceed;
    • A single, more streamlined, regulatory route to oversee building standards as part of the JCA to ensure that regulatory oversight of these buildings is independent from clients, designers and contractors and that enforcement can and does take place where that is necessary. Oversight of HRRBs will only be provided through Local Authority Building Standards4 as part of the JCA, with Approved Inspectors availableto expand local authority capacity/expertise or to newly provide accredited verification and consultancy services to dutyholders; and
    • More rigorous enforcement powers. A wider and more flexible range of powers will be created to focus incentives on the creation of reliably safe buildings from the outset. This also means more serious penalties for those who choose to game the system and place residents at risk.

    Improving the focus on building safety during the occupation phase (set out in Chapter 3) through:

    • A clear and identifiable dutyholder with responsibility for building safety of the whole building. The dutyholder during occupation and maintenance should maintain the fire and structural safety of the whole building, and identify and make improvements where reasonable and practicable;
    • A requirement on the dutyholder to present a safety case to the JCA at regular intervals to check that building safety risks are being managed so far as is reasonably practicable;
    • Clearer rights and obligations for residents to maintain the fire safety of individual dwellings, working in partnership with the dutyholder. This will include a combination of transparency of information and an expectation that residents support the dutyholder to manage the risk across the whole building ; and
    • A regulator for the whole of the building (the JCA) in relation to fire and structural safety in occupation who can take a proactive, holistic view of building safety and hold dutyholders to account with robust sanctions where necessary.

    Giving residents a voice in the system (set out in Chapter 4) through:

    • Providing reassurance and recourse for residents of all tenures by providing:
      greater transparency of information on building safety; better involvement in decision-making, through the support of residents associations and tenant panels; and a no-risk route for residents to escalate concerns on fire safety where necessary, through an independent statutory body that can provide support where service providers have failed to take action, building on ongoing work across Government.

    Setting out demanding expectations around improved levels of competence (set out in Chapter 5) through:

    • The construction sector and fire safety sector demonstrating more effective leadership for ensuring building safety amongst key roles including an overarching body to provide oversight of competence requirements.

    Creating a more effective balance between government ownership of building standards and industry ownership of technical guidance (set out in Chapter 6) by:

    • Moving towards a system where ownership of technical guidance rests with industry as the intelligent lead in delivering building safety and providing it with the flexibility to ensure that guidance keeps pace with changing practices with continuing oversight from an organisation prescribed by government.
    • A package of regulations and guidance that is simpler to navigate but that genuinely reflects the level of complexity of the building work. This new approach will reinforce the concept of delivering building safety as a system rather than by considering a series of competing or isolated objectives

    Creating a more robust and transparent construction products regime (set out in Chapter 7) through:

    • a more effective testing regime with clearer labelling and product traceability, including a periodic review process of test methods and the range of standards in order to drive continuous improvement and higher performance and encourage innovative product and system design under better quality control. This regime would be underpinned by a more effective market surveillance system operating at a national level.

    Creating a golden thread of information about each HRRB (set out in Chapter 8) by:

    • Obligating the creation of a digital record for new HRRBs from initial design intent through to construction and including any changes that occur throughout occupation. This package of building information will be used by the dutyholders to demonstrate to the regulator the safety of the building throughout its life cycle. And in addition:
    • Tackling poor procurement practices (set out in Chapter 9) including through the roles and responsibilities set out above, to drive the right behaviours to make sure that high-safety, low-risk options are prioritised and full life cycle cost is considered when a building is procured
    • Ensuring continuous improvement and best- practice learning through membership of an international body (set out in Chapter 10).

    The recommendations in this report relate predominantly to HRRBs which will be overseen by the JCA. However, it is made clear in the following chapters where the review believes that there would be merit in certain aspects of the new regulatory framework applying to a wider set of buildings.”

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