Fire engineer Steven Cooper gives his view on the Hackitt Review interim report, commissioned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster
Dame Judith Hackitt’s summary confirmed what many in the industry have been saying for years – that the system is broken. Anyone who has been involved in building design for any length of time will, if they’re honest, admit the building control process has degenerated to such an extent that it no longer provides the level of assurance necessary, and I believe this decline can be traced back to the day that building control was privatised.
Building control became a commodity, and like any commodity, there was money to be made by “piling it high and selling it cheap”. Quality, by necessity, becomes a luxury in this process.
I recently heard a representative from a building control organisation say they didn’t sell compliance, they sold advice, and herein lies the problem: there are others on the design team to provide technical advice, and the role of building control should be to act as an honest broker, reviewing the design proposals with unjaundiced eyes.
I don’t believe that the regulations or the guidance are complex and unclear, but that the approved documents are perhaps too simple, and this permits them to be used by people who don’t have the necessary training to fully appreciate what they are doing.
The professional institutions have a massive opportunity to make a real difference, but they must set and enforce stringent professional standards on their members, so that others can have renewed confidence in their abilities.
They will need to care less about collecting subscriptions and more about maintaining standards, kicking out any members that fail to meet the standards that society expects and deserves.
So far, then, Dame Judith’s review has started positively and looks like it is homing in on the problems that beset the construction industry.
Let’s hope that the government has the appetite to make some real changes this time.
Steven Cooper is director of Tenos and is a fire engineer with more than 30 years of experience in firefighting, fire testing, fire research and fire engineering