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RIBA Notes Concern Ahead of Grenfell Review

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

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Members of the Royal Institute of British Architects are making clear RIBA's concerns about the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, one of the many responses to London’s fatal Grenfell Tower fire, which took more than 70 lives last June

The Report

The institute says that the panel, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, an engineer, is overlooking RIBA’s calls to ban flammable cladding, retrofit sprinklers in housing blocks and also provide a second means of escape in all high-rise residential buildings.

ChiralJon, CC-SA-BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Members of the Royal Institute of British Architects are making clear its concerns about the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, one of the many response to London’s fatal Grenfell Tower fire, which took more than 70 lives last June.

Hackitt released an interim report in December and the review has since finished its second phase, which reportedly included input from RIBA in groups looking at design, construction and refurbishment, and competence.

RIBA has now expressed that it is concerned Hackitt will not provide clarity for professionals or deliver assurance for the public when the final report comes out next month, and has written to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid MP, urging more consideration for RIBA’s recommendations.

The Recommendations

The chair of RIBA’s Expert Group, Jane Duncan, penned the letter, describing four recommendations from RIBA, which include:

  • External walls of buildings over 18 meters in height to be constructed of non-combustible (European class A1) materials only;
  • More than one means of vertical escape from new multiple occupancy residential buildings over 11 meters high, consistent with current regulations for commercial buildings;
  • Retrofitting of sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems to existing residential buildings above 18 meters from ground level in height; and
  • Sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems in all new and converted residential buildings, as currently required under Regulations 37A and 37B of the Building Regulations for Wales.

“The RIBA has engaged closely with Dame Judith and her Review and we welcome many of the suggestions made in her interim report to strengthen the building control system,” said Duncan.

“However, we fear that the current set of proposals under consideration overlook simple but critical changes that would provide clarity for professionals and most importantly, would help protect the public. Sprinklers, a second means of escape and a ban on flammable cladding for high rise residential buildings are common-sense recommendations, and a basic requirement in many other countries. We have written to the Secretary of State making clear that there must be a thorough re-writing of the building regulations and guidance on all aspects of fire safety, to avoid continuation of the regulatory failings that [led] to the Grenfell Tower fire.”

The Interim

The preliminary report was released on Dec. 18, 2017, and called for a complete overhaul of the construction industry and detailed concerns with privatization of inspections and a lack of knowledge among local authorities.

Natalie Oxford, CC-SA-BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hackitt released an interim report in December and the review has since finished its second phase, which reportedly included input from RIBA in groups looking at design, construction and refurbishment, and competence.

“There are notable concerns also that third-party inspections are open to abuse given the potential conflict of interests, with growing levels of mutual dependence between developers and contracted inspectors,” the report said.

Hackitt said that the way regulations are written is causing a problem. Partly because there are too many opportunities for loopholes and shortcuts, she said, but also because many are made to be more complex then they need to be, resulting in a lack of understanding on how to enforce—or even look for—certain requirements.

“It’s a combination of the two,” Hackitt said during an interview with the BBC. “When regulations are complex it makes it quite difficult for people to penetrate that complexity to truly understand what they are required to do. … There are issues of competence to be addressed as part of this.”

She called for an end on cost-cutting on materials; however, her stance was just short of banning materials altogether, which garnered the same backlash from RIBA as its voicing now.

“I’m pleased that Dame Judith Hackitt recognizes the current regulatory system is not fit for purpose and that there is a lack clarity of roles and responsibilities in the construction industry,” said Duncan at the time.

“It is disappointing that the interim review has not called for an immediate prohibition on the use of any combustible materials in the external wall construction of high-rise buildings. This means we continue with this grey-area in regards to fire-safety.”

   

Tagged categories: Fire; Government; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Safety

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