Matt Hodges-Long 07/02/2020
Despite repeated promises from the past three Secretaries of State for Housing that “we will learn from the Grenfell tragedy”, there is still a distinct lack of progress. The intention is to create the Building Safety Regulator (BSR), under the direction of Dame Judith Hackitt and the HSE. However, I remain overwhelmingly cynical that any of the above will make a significant positive difference to building safety any time soon; here is why:
Embedding the BSR within the HSE is a mistake. The HSE do great work but are starved of financial resource, headcount and technology. In my view, the Building Safety Regulator should be established along the lines of the Financial Conduct Authority, employing risk-based regulation, funded by the organisations it regulates.
The UK construction and property management sectors (as evidenced by the Grenfell inquiry) have major quality, competence and compliance flaws. As such, most will need a period of time to achieve the cultural change outlined by Hackitt. In my view, the initial scope of the Building Safety Regulator (as proposed by Hackitt) is too broad. It will lead to an unmanageable number of breaches. We have to acknowledge the size of the problem, set the bar to an achievable level now for all duty holders and then slowly raise standards over time.
Effective regulation of building safety is a huge task. The initial scope for the Building Safety Regulator is High Rise Residential Buildings (HRRBs). These are residential buildings over 18m in height. The Government estimate that there are over 10,000 HRRBs in England. If the scope of regulation was extended to include all high-risk buildings (as mooted), this number would swell to hundreds of thousands. I suggest the new regulator would not have sufficient resource to properly regulate this vast number of properties and protect residents. Just like the HSE, they would only be able to prosecute the worst offenders. This is entirely different to building trust in the system, as the FCA has done.
What should the Government be doing?
Aside from continuing the consultations, working groups and legislative process, there are immediate tactical steps that could be taken now. These would increase transparency, raise safety standards and reduce the likelihood of further loss of life:
- Create a Digital System of Record for every HRRB
- Publish basic location data of each HRRB to a publicly accessible, web-based map
- Invite building owners and managers to administer the Digital System of Record for their properties
- Request building owners and managers securely upload copies of their current fire risk assessments and other essential fire and life safety information
- Publicly praise building owners and managers for their engagement by noting them on the public, web-based map
- Facilitate a process whereby applicants with a legitimate interest are granted secure access to the fire and life safety information (residents, emergency services, building control etc)
- Engage the media and residents’ groups to exert ‘pressure’ on building owners and managers who do not engage
- Increase the scope of the Digital System of Record and regulated buildings over time to build trust
- Bring forward legislation in due course to compel publication to the Digital System of Record
Government tech projects never deliver and cost a fortune!
We know this is the case, which is why we have repeatedly offered the Government their own version of TrackMyRisks branded as ‘The Building Safety Register’.
The Building Safety Register is tried and tested, built on Amazon’s scalable infrastructure and fully supported by a wide range of industry experts and implementers.
To coin a popular phrase the Building Safety Register is “Oven Ready” so I am calling on Robert Jenrick, Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government, Dame Judith Hackitt to work with us to “Get Building Safety Done”