Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Grenfell - what else are we missing?

David Frise, BESA Head of Sustainability


Part 4: The Symptoms vs. the disease - a solution 

The simple solution to addressing regulation and enforcement does not requires rafts of legislation (except perhaps in fire safety), but the simple enforcement of simplified regulations, which are designed to give us a safe, healthy built environment that we can enjoy in a sustainable way.  For this to work Building Regulations and Planning Consents need to be matched to output, not theoretical models as they currently are.  In other words, the process should be about what you actually deliver, not what you promised to deliver.

At the BESA, we are encouraged by the broader focus of this review and its focus on tall buildings, compliance and enforcement. Dame Judith’s appointment is significant, showing the government appreciate the importance of engineering expertise to undertake a review of this nature. As an active fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and with her track record at the Health and Safety Executive, BESA is encouraged by the appointment and looks forward to supporting the review as it gets underway.

For Part L of Building Regulations, which deals with the conservation of fuel and power for example, this would mean instead of complicated SAP and SBEM modelling, the requirement would be to meet a notional energy and carbon target per square meter.  How you achieve that would be up to you as the expert designer, but you would be required to prove that you had met the target or produce an explanation of why you had not.

Someone with an engineering background, like Dame Judith, will understand what changes can be made for the future and how to make the regulations more effective.

Who will enforce it?  Not the DCLG’s “buildings police”, but the freeholder of the property.  They would be required to prove that the building meets the requirements of building and planning regulations and the local authority could audit a small percentage.  The same principle that HMRC employ, with crippling fines for those who try to cheat the system.

We may see a future where freeholders would need to employ professional experts to carry out this task on their behalf and at their own expense. You would also have to allow scope for those who genuinely innovate and fail (not with safety of course) but otherwise you place the emphasis and responsibility where it should lie; with the freeholder.

Extra Cost?

Before we throw our hands up in horror at the additional expense, they are not being asked to do anything they are not already required to – but don’t.  Surely, they intend to build the thing they put in for planning?  You wouldn’t dream of getting in an aircraft that had not been tested, so why would you live or work in an untested building, when you spend over 80% of your time inside?

Our built environment has huge impact on our society, the buildings and places we construct will be there for years.  A couple of thousand pounds saved by a developer or a contractor in the short term can have huge costs long term for all of us when it comes to health, safety and economics. With 455 towers planned for London alone, the focus will be on these buildings but the same issues apply to our schools (witness the recent Edinburgh Schools’ closures because of structural safety concerns) our hospitals, offices and homes. 

We have seen countless reports on the ills of the construction industry, going all the way back to the Simon Report in 1944.  Almost all focus on dealing with the symptoms and not the disease. Talk of collaboration, a digital revolution and innovation will all help, but to fix this we need to start with the disease.  We need to be building an entire product, not just assembling a collection of individual products. The freeholder has to want a complete product that meets design, complies with regulations and planning requirements and must have responsibility to deliver that to the population at large.

We all live in the built environment, so is it unreasonable to ask freeholders to be responsible for making sure they enhance that environment through sustainable, safe development?

The responsibility to ensure the compliance of the building with the required standards lies with the builder who should have in place proper inspection of the works, however by definition such self-managed inspections cannot be independent of the builder.

With the launch of Dame Judith’s new independent review, we are finally going to have an open and frank discussion on the regulatory system around design, construction and on-going management of buildings. We can examine the related compliance and enforcement issues and we are ready to work together towards updated building regulations that are safer, more efficient and fit for purpose.


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