Independent probe into housebuilding giant calls for reassessment of whole “purpose and ambition” of company
Housebuilder Persimmon has routinely failed to properly install correct cavity barriers and firestopping on its timber-frame properties, according to a damning independent report into build problems at the firm.
The independent report, conducted by Grenfell QC Stephanie Barwise, found that the failure to install correct cavity barriers was a “systemic nationwide problem” and called for the firm’s board to reassess the builder’s whole “purpose and ambition”.
Persimmon chairman Roger Devlin commissioned the independent report in April this year after repeated public criticism of the quality of new-build Persimmon homes, which followed on from a huge backlash over a £75m bonus for previous chief executive Jeff Fairburn.
Persimmon is the UK’s third largest housebuilder, with an annual turnover of more than £3.5bn. Last year it raked in more than £1bn in pre-tax profit.
The executive summary of the report found: “The problem Persimmon has encountered with missing/improperly fitted cavity barriers is a systemic nationwide problem, which is a manifestation of poor culture coupled with the lack of a group build process. […]
“If the board wishes Persimmon to be a builder of quality homes, meeting all relevant build and safety standards, then it should reconsider Persimmon’s purpose and ambition.”
The report found the company was focused around being a land buyer and homeseller, rather than a builder, with no group build processes or systems to ensure quality.
It said: “Persimmon has a nationwide problem of missing and/or incorrectly installed cavity barriers in its timber-frame properties”, adding that, while the firm had reacted quickly when this problem had been identified, it had only inspected the eaves of properties, and not assessed whether the same problem was occurring in party walls and around windows and doors.
The failure to install cavity barriers in timber-frame buildings poses a significant fire risk, with the issue seen as key in the rapid spread of the recent blaze at a Berkeley-built block of flats, the Hamptons, in Worcester Park, south London.
The report, published on Persimmon’s website today but not publicly announced, said the business had started to take steps to address the problems raised.
It also questioned the quality in the wider housebuilding industry, by criticising the Home Builders’ Federation’s five-star quality rating system. It said there was a “disconnect between the award of stars via the HBF Survey and true (as opposed to perceived) build quality”.
Barwise said Persimmon’s board deserved significant credit for commissioning the review and publishing its findings, which showed a willingness to confront “difficult truths”.
She added: “The independent review team has sought to be as thorough as possible in its consultation and review and I believe that we have given the board a very honest assessment of the issues Persimmon needs to address. It is encouraging that during the period of review as we shared initial findings that the company began to take various steps to respond to certain issues.”
Devlin said the housebuilder had made progress in identifying issues raised and apologised to homeowners affected by the problems identified. He said: “We have made solid progress in implementing a number of initiatives over the last year.
“This review – and the seriousness that we attach to its detailed findings – is an important moment for Persimmon as we continue to build a different business with an increased focus on our customers and wider stakeholders – becoming a business that prioritises purpose as well as profit.”
In a trading update last month, the firm said it would continue to plough money into improving quality and customer service. The firm is due to publish its 2019 results in February.