Dame Judith Hackitt’s opening remarks on Building Safety Reform

At the end of 2020, we attended the virtual RICS Fire Safety Conference. The Conference itself was packed full of insightful updates, with a clear focus on building safety reform. The short introduction to the conference alone, presented by Dame Judith Hackitt, was full of information on the progress of The Building Safety Bill, the role of the Building Safety Regulator, and the forthcoming definitions of competence.

Dame Judith Hackitt opened her introduction with the powerful statement “any doubts that anyone might have had that we are actually going to see a massive change in the building regulatory system have now been put to bed.”

She continued to discuss the upcoming changes of building safety reform, following the Grenfell Tower Tragedy of 2017, and began by discussing the all-important role of the Building Safety Regulator…

The Building Safety Regulator

Last year it was announced that this role would form part of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and, speaking with assured authority, in her position of personally chairing the Transition board, Dame Judith provided further clarity that this will form a “separate division” and will be “properly resourced”.  

This affirms previous statements on the matter that the Building Safety Regulator will ‘have teeth’ in its enforcement ability, and those in control of buildings in scope/high-risk high-rise residential buildings that haven’t yet taken action should perhaps see this as somewhat of a warning shot!

The Building Safety Bill

July 2020 saw the introduction of the first draft of the Building Safety Bill; which is set to change the way in which building safety is managed, particularly in relation to high-risk high-rise buildings. Dame Judith revealed that some have shown signs of complacency because the legislation is “unlikely to be in place until 2023”, however, she reaffirmed that “action is actually going to happen” and that this is now “valuable time” to be planning, strategising and preparing so that we are all ready for the day that the bill becomes law.

She went on to explain that a lot of what is to come has been defined and “clearly laid out” so there is no reasonable excuse as to why Property Managers and Building Owners should not be adequately prepared for day one of the new regime.

You can find out more about the forthcoming requirements and how you might prepare for them by getting in touch with our team.

Industry Safety Steering Group

One of the other things that Dame Judith spoke about was the Industry Safety Steering Group, this group was created “to drive culture change within industry” and is chaired by Dame Judith herself.

The group published its second annual report last year, which reported on the good amount of progress so far.

She said that “there are companies and organisations out there who are already identifying themselves as early adopters and moving things forward”, however, there are still “a lot of organisations who are taking that approach of ‘we’ll wait to be told’ or ‘we’ll wait and see what the detail is before we move’ so we do need to keep driving this forward.”

4site considers itself an early adopter, and is developing a raft of new technology, skills and services to support our clients through this transition and beyond.          

Issue of Competence

One of the key issues highlighted in the Hackitt Review was competency. At the RICS Conference, Dame Judith identified competency as an issue “needing to be addressed across the whole sector… to ensure that people understand, not only what they need to do, but the role that they play as part of a bigger system…”

She continued to say:

 “We were very clear, and have been all along, that one of the things that we need in that competence area is to be assured of the qualifications that people have.

That isn’t to say that currently we don’t trust any qualifications but there are a whole variety and when you look at other parts of the sector there are many, many different awarding bodies so it does become quite complex, quite quickly.

So, one of the things that has really become quite important in all of this is to ensure that we get third-party accreditation of the new qualifications that people will receive in building safety.”

Though not everyone will need to demonstrate competence to a single unified level, it does mean that those who “work on regulatory system surrounding high-rise complex buildings… in whatever part of the profession… will need to have and be able to show this additional qualification over and above those that are common to the whole of the sector or the discipline”.

This is in relation to competence for a buildings initial design, through to its construction, occupation and ongoing management throughout its lifecycle.

Key Message

Dame Judith finished her talk by insisting that “we are on the path to delivering what is a once in a generation change” but a massive amount of work still needs to be done.

As always, residents are at the heart of the new regime and one of the key messages from this talk was to “remember why we’re doing this.”

Another key message was that although the law won’t come in until 2023, we should start the prepare for the Building Safety Bill now. Especially as “you will see a gradual step up in the activity of the building safety regulator and that will become really visible for the first time…early in 2021…”