The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) believes the government’s admission that it was partly to blame for the Grenfell Tower tragedy is a crucial step forward for building safety.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove has now admitted that the Building Regulations at the time of the fire which claimed 72 lives were “faulty and unclear” leaving them open to exploitation. In a series of interviews, he also admitted that the government failed to effectively police the “whole system of building safety…which allowed unscrupulous people to exploit a broken system in a way that led to tragedy”.
BESA welcomed what it described as a “noticeable change of stance” since the Grenfell public inquiry where lawyers representing the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities claimed while giving evidence that the regulations were “clear and unambiguous”.
Gove has now accepted that the guidance around Part B of the regulations, in particular, was too loose and open to misinterpretation.
While much of the focus has been on forcing developers to put right decades of faulty and unsafe work, BESA believes it was equally important that the government acknowledged its own failings.
“The industry bears a heavy weight of responsibility for the tragedy and the culture of corner cutting that led to it, but it is important to acknowledge where guidance and enforcement also failed,” said chief executive officer David Frise.
“The emergence of the Building Safety Act is a key legacy of Grenfell, but simply putting legislation in place is not going to be enough. The government must continue to consult closely with the industry to plug any gaps or areas of potential confusion in that legislation and then commit wholeheartedly to enforcing the rules to keep people safe.
“Admitting where it went wrong in the past is, therefore, crucial to ensuring the same mistakes are not repeated,” added Frise.
Gove told the Sunday Times that the whole system of regulation was “faulty” and that the government “did not think hard enough, or police effectively enough, the whole system of building safety.”
BESA also praised the Minister’s announcement that legislation to create a Responsible Actors Scheme (RAS) was being drafted that would allow the secretary of state to ban developers from the housing market if they failed to rectify unsafe work.
Gove has given housebuilders six weeks to sign a government remediation contract requiring them to fix buildings and reimburse taxpayers, at an estimated cost of £2bn to carry out repairs on projects going back 30 years. This money will be on top of the Building Safety Levy, which is expected to raise £5bn from the industry towards cladding replacement and other fire safety work.
“Too many developers, along with product manufacturers and freeholders, have profited from these unsafe buildings and have a moral duty to do the right thing and pay for their repair,” said Gove.
“In signing this contract, developers will be taking a big step towards restoring confidence in the sector and providing much-needed certainty to all concerned. There will be nowhere to hide for those who fail to step up to their responsibilities.”
So far, 49 of the country’s leading developers have verbally agreed to address historic problems and these pledges will now be turned into legally binding commitments.
BESA said this would bring welcome relief to thousands of leaseholders who have found themselves trapped in potentially unsafe and unsaleable properties.
“The construction industry has a very long road to travel to regain people’s trust, but at least with these developments it has started on that journey,” said Frise. “The Minister is clearly committed to putting right a huge social injustice, so we would urge the government to keep up the pressure and ensure all these measures are properly enforced and backed by the full force of the law.”