Plans for radical overhaul of building regulations industry post-Grenfell

The Government has set out its plans for the overhaul of the building regulations industry post-Grenfell, as campaigners vowed to prevent changes being watered down.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said establishing a “radically-new system” would be the best tribute for the 72 victims of the fire on June 14 last year.

Mr Brokenshire said the Government had committed to a programme of reform focused on four key areas: introducing more effective regulations and accountability; clearer guidance; prioritising residents and working with the industry to drive change.

The long-awaited response follows recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt in May, which the Government agreed to take forward in full.

In her report, she found that indifference and ignorance led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety practices, recommending the creation of a new regulator.

In September, the Government introduced a ban on using combustible cladding on new high-rise homes which is due to come into force on Friday – 18 months after the west London blaze.

Part of the new implementation plan, Building a Safer Future, reads: “The Government accepts the need to create, in law, a tougher regulatory framework, under which regulators will have greater powers and more opportunities to intervene throughout the lifecycle of a building.

“We also consider that stronger sanctions and enforcement powers are needed to incentivise compliance and address noncompliance.”

The campaign group Grenfell United called it a “long overdue shake up” of an industry which “for years has put profit over people”.

While the Government’s commitments were “promising”, the group warned against “urgent” changes being kicked into the long grass.

It said: “A significant volume of Hackitt’s recommendations will now go to consultation.

“We must be vigilant to ensure government and industry, that so badly failed us, do not water down these changes.

“Resident voices must be given weight and parliament must keep a watchful eye on progress.”

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Housing Secretary James Brokenshire (David Mirzoeff/PA)

The anticipated new regulatory framework will apply to multi-occupancy buildings of at least 10 storeys, with a consultation in the spring 2019 on whether additional buildings should be included.

The Government will also consult on proposals to create dutyholders – people who will ensure residents’ safety is at the forefront of each stage of a building’s development – in a bid to strengthen accountability.

Their responsibilities would be underpinned by regulations that would require “gateways” at key points where they would have to demonstrate they are “actively managing” safety risks.

But the London Fire Brigade warned the safety reforms could fail because there were not enough building and fire safety people “with the relevant skills and qualifications to provide the proper scrutiny”.

The Government said it will establish a Joint Regulators Group (JRG) to help us develop new approaches, assist with the transition to a new regulatory framework and assess resource needs.

Grenfell United added: “The plan to work with existing industry regulators must only be a temporary step to identify, remediate and keep people safe in their homes.

“Ultimately we need a fully independent regulatory body, with effective sanction and enforcement powers.”

The LGA welcomed Mr Brokenshire’s commitment to implement the recommendations, and said it was pleased to be part of the JRG.

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “The definition of higher risk residential buildings in the Hackitt Review is currently too narrow.

“It must be extended to all buildings in which vulnerable people sleep other than private homes.

“Consideration must also be given to lowering the height definition of high-rise buildings from the current definition.”