On 17 May the long-awaited report of the review of England’s Building Regulations and fire safety was published. The review was commissioned by the British government in response to the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt, her team’s report concentrates on the regulatory process of supervision during design, construction and occupation. Despite calls from many bodies and experts, it does not recommend any changes in fire safety measures in buildings. Its recommendations would assign personal responsibility for fire safety over the different stages in the life cycle of a building and introduce formal sign-off at each.
The scope of her recommendations only extends to high-rise residential buildings of more than 10 storeys. Given that it applies to new and existing buildings, most of its impact would be on the more than 2,000 existing such buildings, rather than the 30-50 that are built each year. As yet the British government has not formally responded to her report but early indications are that it will go further and extend the scope to more buildings. The day before the report was published the government announced it would provide up to £400 million for the replacement of combustible insulation and cladding on social housing. In a debate, many Members of Parliament also called for sprinklers to be fitted in new apartment buildings. Since 2007 sprinklers have been required in new apartment buildings in England but only if they are higher than 30m, which is typically 10 storeys.
While Dame Judith has not proposed any changes to the fire safety measures required in buildings, she does recommend that the regulatory guidance should be reviewed at least every five years. It has not been revised since 2006.
As part of the recommended new regulatory arrangements, there would be a requirement to reduce the risk from fire to a level as low as reasonably possible. It is not clear what the implications of the ALARP approach would be but potentially ALARP would identify sprinklers as a measure that should be applied in many buildings.
Meanwhile local councils have announced they will retrofit 1,000 buildings, not all of them higher than 10 storeys. Cornwall has become the first council in England to announce it will fit sprinklers in all new social housing, joining several councils in Scotland. The EFSN has also heard that a number of housebuilders are now fitting sprinklers in all new apartment buildings.
The Hackitt report is an important milestone in repairing England’s fire safety regulations, which were shown to be so awfully to be deficient on 14 June 2017. The public enquiry and police investigation will probably highlight the need for further changes.