Grenfell - the symptoms vs the disease

After considering fire safety in a previous blog, we now turn to look at the issues caused by regulations and lack of enforcement.

There are rightly calls for wholesale change and after years of sniping at ‘unnecessary regulations’ we may have to reverse the attempts at cutting red tape. 

But what were those regulations that were consigned to history, might they have led to this tragedy?  That is a more difficult question to answer.  We all complain about red tape but when asked which regulations would you like to get rid of, invariably a room full of construction specialists will be unable to name one.  In fact they will usually include some they feel should be added. 

So it is not necessarily that the government has revoked some essential piece of safety regulation, it is more that they have set the tone.  Regulation is an unnecessary impediment to innovation and progress, usually dreamed up by some faceless bureaucrat that the government can do nothing about, but accept and implement.

As a consequence you have a culture of non-enforcement.  The biggest complaint of specialist contractors is that building regulations are paid lip service.  There are precious few prosecutions for a failure meet the requirements of building standards and none for a failure to comply with the energy efficiency targets described in Part L of building regulations. When challenged, DCLG, the department responsible for building regulations, ask “what should we do call in the building police?”

At the very least there is a culture of neglect, as we have seen with the delays to Part B of building regulations, which include fire regulations.   In fact the role of Building Control has progressively been downgraded, with the provision of private providers, this adds a commercial dimension to the checking of buildings. It is not about doing a thorough inspection, it’s ‘can you do it cheaply’ and ‘can you help get around more expensive requirements by beneficially interpreting regulations?’ 

The process was clearly identified in the recently published Edinburgh Schools Report into the closure of 17 schools in Edinburgh following a wall collapse;

A number of witnesses to the Inquiry identified a desire to reduce the cost of fees as a major factor in deciding the level of provision of effective inspection of construction, rather than a serious assessment of the risks of not providing for adequate independent scrutiny

Consequently, with little or no chance of prosecution, a culture of non-compliance is prevalent.  And this is portrayed, or it was until Grenfell, as a victimless crime. 

This culture of neglect will hopefully be addressed and redressed with Dame Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Engineering Employers Federation, leading a new independent review of Building Regulations. The review announced on Friday as part of the continuing response to the Grenfell tragedy and is the first opportunity for meaningful review of Building Regulations in many years. At the BESA, we are encouraged by the broader focus of this review and its focus on tall buildings, compliance and enforcement.

Read our 4th blog in the series for some suggestions of how we might address this contentious issue.

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