As outlined in our previous articles covering what lies ahead for high rise regulation and the proposed ban on flammable cladding the legislative programme to implement the recommendations of the Hackitt review and to address broader concerns is already underway.
However, as anticipated, political concerns have already led to these proposals being "beefed up".
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, in its response to the Hackitt report addressing next steps, makes a number of recommendations, almost all representing an extension of the ambitious regime proposed by Dame Hackitt.
What do the recommendations include?
- applying the ban on flammable cladding to existing buildings over 18m and buildings currently under construction (going further than the consultation recommendations which would not have retrospective effect);
- applying the ban on flammable cladding to non-residential buildings where "there is a particular and significant risk to life", specific examples include hospitals, residential homes, student accommodation and hotels;
- urgent publication of an updated Approved Document B (the Hackitt review recommended an immediate review).The committee also recommends urgently revising sections 12.5-12.7 of the Approved Document to ban on the use of combustible materials as an external surface;
- a welcome recommendation will be government funding of the replacement of banned cladding on existing buildings which were permitted prior to the consultation – this would apply to both the private and public sector;
- in respect of private buildings the committee recommends government funding the cost of remedial work where it was signed off and fully complied with the applicable Building Regulations at the time;
- subjecting all cladding materials to full-scale fire tests;
- a more robust testing regime to replace or enhance BS 8414 to reflect real world conditions, be more transparent, detail test failures and re-runs, and thereby reach "near-incontestable conclusions";
- the committee is critical of the "pervasive" conflicts of interest in the system, i.e. choosing favourable inspection services, choosing favourable product testers, local Fire Rescue Authorities setting up advisory trading bodies whose work they then inspect.It recommends that Government "tackle" these conflicts;
- the retro-fitting of sprinklers"where structurally feasible", is recommended to be funded by government in respect of council and housing association buildings over 18m."Structurally feasible" would be a very onerous standard which is not subject to "reasonableness", this would impose significant cost on private sector landlords/owners;
- a consultation on the installation of sprinkler systems in more buildings "including student accommodation, hospitals and large commercial warehouses";
- government considering recommendations made by respondents to the review to update the Building Regulations to require central fire alarms in new residential buildings, advanced fire safety training for groups of people in each high risk building, and two staircases in all new residential buildings over 11m tall;
- recognising the often complex nature of ownership in multiple-tenant privately rented buildings, that government urgently review responsibility and liability to produce guidance for building owners to ensure necessary work is carried out and to identify the correct dutyholder; and
- a government backed low interest loan scheme to fund private sector removals of cladding by private sector building owners.
How much further do the recommendations go?
Against what was already a far reaching reform agenda the above would significantly extend both the breadth and depth of the changes required. It takes as read that 18m, not 10 storeys, will be the height of a "high rise", it extends the potential application to numerous additional categories of building, it advocates retrospective removal of cladding, retrospective fitting of sprinklers, and proposes significant reform of building regulations and testing of products.
It advocates enhancing both the outcomes-based principle-focused system recommended by Dame Hackitt while at the same time introducing enhanced prescriptive rules into Building Regulations, believing this will guarantee minimum standards whilst improving oversight and sanctions.
It overcomes some of the inherent conflicts between the two regimes that are reflected in the government combustible cladding consultation by recommending the retrospective implementation of the enhanced standards in existing buildings, removing many inconsistencies. The latter would, however, we anticipate, come with enormous financial implications.
In summary, perhaps unsurprisingly, the prevailing political sentiment appears to be to go further and to "gold plate" the Hackitt recommendations by extending the ambit of her proposed reforms whilst enhancing and back-dating existing control measures.
With sprinklers and cladding at the top of the agenda in this document it is also easy to forget that, in another area of criticism arising following the disaster, fire door tests revealed that some 30 minute fire doors lasted just 15 minutes in a real world scenario.
The Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government has suggested there is evidence of a "broader issue" across the fire door market and will meet with suppliers to discuss this. The Ministry will also develop a certification scheme to provide greater reassurance to dutyholders. Again for buildings with potentially substandard doors in place the uncertainty generated and the potential need to carry out wholesale replacement of doors warranted as compliant will be unwelcome.
No legislation appears to be recommended specifically in respect of fire doors at present however given the clear appetite for reform duty holders would be well advised to watch this space.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at August 2018. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.