Scotland to ‘learn any lessons we can’ from interim Grenfell Tower review

Image of the Grenfell Tower fire courtesy of Natalie Oxford via Twitter

Communities secretary Angela Constance has pledged to learn any possible lessons from the publication of an interim report into UK building regulations and fire safety following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Dame Judith Hackitt, the former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, was commissioned to carry out the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in the wake of the tragedy which claimed the lives of 71 people earlier this year.

Investigating the culture of the construction sector and how the regulatory framework could be more effective, the damning report found regulations that allow landlords and contractors to take “shortcuts” are “not fit for purpose”.

Dame Hackitt said she was “shocked” by some of the practices she encountered and called for a “new intelligent system of regulation and enforcement” for high-rise buildings.

The report’s main findings were that regulations and guidance are “too complex and unclear” and that the means of assessing the competency of key people involved in the system is “inadequate”, with those involved with high-rise buildings needing no special qualifications. It also found that the route for residents to escalate concerns is “unclear and inadequate” while sanctions against those who fail to follow the rules “are too weak”.

In the review, Dame Judith writes: “As the review has progressed, it has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.

“This should not be interpreted as meaning that buildings are unsafe. Major building failures, including large-scale fires, are very rare and there are many construction firms, building owners, landlords and others in the system who do the right thing and recognise their responsibilities.

“The unprecedented verification, interim mitigation and remediation work undertaken by fire and rescue services, local authorities and building owners since the summer have ensured that measures are in place to assure residents of high-rise buildings of their safety.”

The Scottish Government has worked with Dame Judith’s team and shared information from the Ministerial Working Group established to consider building regulations and fire safety in Scotland.

Ms Constance said the government will continue to work with Westminster on a number of possible actions resulting from the report.

Angela Constance

The minister said: “This is the first of a number of important reports, from which we can start to learn lessons from the Grenfell tragedy. I welcome the engagement that Scottish Government officials have had with Dame Judith and her team on this report.

“We are pleased that Dame Judith recognises that the situation in Scotland is different. We believe our system is robust but there is always room for improvement. We also specifically welcome the work being done and recommendations being made on building industry products and the system of accreditation, which is shared across the UK as a whole.

“We have commissioned two building standard reviews – into fire regulations and compliance – which will ensure that our system of building standards remain clear. The Ministerial Working Group will now look in detail at the recommendations within the interim report and ensure the scope of our reviews are consistent with the issues being considered by Dame Judith. We look to continue our on-going engagement and will seek to work with the UK government on a number of possible actions resulting from the report.”

Dr Paul Stollard, chair of Fire Regulations in Building Standards Review Group, said: “We have already made good progress on identifying where changes might be required to the fire sections of the Scottish Building Standards, with our second Review Panel meeting planned for January and our international comparison group meeting again in February. It is now very helpful to see the proposed areas of change to the English building regulations system as set out in this interim report and it appears that there might be some opportunities joint work on certification schemes which could cover the whole of the United Kingdom.”

Professor John Cole, chair of Compliance and Enforcement in Building Standards Review Group, added: “I welcome Dame Judith Hackitt’s report. From her initial findings I recognise there are many common themes to the work I am currently undertaking for‎ the Scottish Government. In particular the need to ensure that all involved in procuring designing and constructing buildings play their part in delivering buildings compliant with regulations and are safe for building users.”

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