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UKAA Roundtable: Uncladding the Hackitt Review presented by Ringley

Thursday 23rd January

On Thursday 23rd January Mary Anne Bowring,  CEO at Ringley Group, hosted the UKAA Roundtable on the Hackitt Review, which was introduced following the Grenfell Tower tragedy that saw the deaths of at least 79 people in one of modern Britain’s worse residential fires.

The event – attended by a mixture of property managers, investors, lawyers and consultants – provided a detailed overview of the Hackitt Review and what the implications would be for the industry.

Known formally as The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, Dame Judith Hackitt’s investigation outlined a series of recommendations to ensure the industry has a sufficiently robust regulatory system for the future, and to reassure residents the buildings they live in are either safe or will be made so.

The review analyses current building and fire safety regulations and related compliance and enforcement, with a focus on high rise residential buildings (HRRB).

The review outlines the regulatory approach that the Joint Competent Authority (JCA) – made up of Local Authority Building Standards, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive – will take. ‘So far as is reasonably practicable’ (SFAIRP) is the outcome-based approach, which will allow the JCA to effectively regulate by placing the responsibility on duty holders to exercise their judgment when making the safety case to the regulator.

However, the recent announcement from housing secretary Robert Jenrick, states that it is solely down to the Health and Safety Executive to establish the new regulatory body.

Mary-Anne explained that the duty holder is in fact the owner of the building, and they should be solely responsible for carrying out tests to the building for fire safety measures.

She said: “With building regulations, the mindset is you get planning, you build it, you’re finished, and from that moment on it’s down to us as practitioners to keep that building safe. The JCA will have a life-long duty to that building, which is fundamental. How they’re going to resource it and quite how often they’re going to check up on it has not yet been decided or published.”

The duty holder will also be responsible for maintaining the ‘golden thread’ of information about the building structure and materials, detailing the maintenance, testing and inspection routine as well as how fire risk assessments are undertaken and actions implemented.

The focus of the JCA will be to maximise the focus on building safety within HRRBs across their entire life cycle. “The changes suggested focus on the lifecycle of the building, not just the point of completion. A simple example of this is the difference between a building in use and one that isn’t. The occupiers create risk, meaning things have to be considered and carried out differently. Some people treat these documents as just that, where the minimum applies and that’s good enough. What the government wants to do is have a change and provide a total picture of the envelope of the building,” Mary-Anne explained.

The review also suggests that the JCA should design and operate a full cost recovery model. In addition, it outlines the three key gateway points that should be satisfied by the duty holder. These three points are:

  • – The relevant duty holder must satisfy the JCA that the planned building will be sufficiently accessible by the fire service, in order for the Local Planning Authority to determine the planning application in order to get permission to use the land for intended purposes
  • – The relevant duty holder must satisfy the JCA (who will conduct a review of the safety features of the proposed design) that their full plans show that key building safety risks are understood and will be managed, that robust processes are being put in place and that the design will meet all building regulations requirements in order to start building work
  • – The relevant duty holder must satisfy the JCA that the signed-off design has been followed (or that any changes since that point are properly verified and acceptable) and that the completed building has met all key building safety (and other building regulations) requirements, that all key documents have been handed over, and a resident engagement strategy is in place in order to start occupation

Residents will also be responsible for maintaining building and fire safety protection measures in their flats, and will be expected to cooperate with the duty holder to ensure that essential safety checks can be carried out. They will receive information about the layers of protection in place to keep the building safe, and will be involved in discussions about changes to their building. The duty holder will be responsible for making residents aware of the outcome of safety case reviews and any required improvement measures.

The review also highlights the immediate measures put in place to protect residents, which are:

  • Get the fire risk assessment updated
  • Keep it updated as your investigation reveals new facts
  • Review the fire emergency evacuation plan policy to ensure it is a GET OUT policy
  • Ensure ‘fire action notices’ make all aware of the GET OUT policy and the reasons
  • Strongly recommend every owner installs smoke alarms in every room inside the property and tests them regularly
  • Install a fire alarm if there isn’t one present to ensure early warning

“We find out now three years later that the External Wall System (EWS1) form requires us to understand the full system of the cladding, i.e. the cladding, the brackets, the fixing, the insulation behind the walls, etc,” explained Mary-Anne.

“It’s about the total combustibility of the system. When the Building Research Establishment (BRE) were testing these buildings for free, it was just about the cladding, so we’ve now moved on from that. It’s quite important to understand this because a lot of us have to retest these buildings that have already been tested, even though we know the cladding on the outside is fine. Now we have to go back and retest the insulation in these buildings.”

The challenges faced in these assessments come from the difference in what is specified to be put on a building, – or materials used in construction – and what is actually put on a building.

Mary-Anne warned that some lenders won’t provide a mortgage on a high rise residential building that doesn’t have the correct EWS1 form in place. However, different mortgage lenders have adopted different approaches, but some high street banks are known for this type of practice. “For those of you that don’t know what the EWS1 certificate is, it’s required by mortgage lenders on any high rise residential building, and they won’t give you a mortgage unless you’ve got that form.

“And if you’re already living in those buildings, and can’t produce the certificate, the lender will put your mortgage interest rates up until you can produce it. That’s the reality. We have leaseholders that are paying upwards of 100 pounds extra interest a month while waiting for these forms.

“The journey from applying for an EWS1 form to getting it probably takes around two and a half months. In the meantime, you will be paying penalty interest. Remortgaging on high rise residential buildings without a signed EWS1 form is also being denied by high street banks.”

The second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry has now started, and hearings will be heard until at least April 2021, with 200,000 pages of evidence due to be disclosed and reviewed during the period. The inquiry will consider how the high rise block came to be wrapped in flammable cladding, which was deemed the reason in phase one for the rapid spread of flames in the block.

If you are interested in reading the full report from the Hackitt Review, you can read it on the government website.