‘A major missed opportunity’ to make buildings safer today – RIBA responds to Hackitt Review

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has today (Thursday 17 May) given an initial response to the publication of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.

The RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, set up following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, had expressed serious concerns for some time that the Hackitt Review was not going to include the changes that are needed now, not tomorrow.

The RIBA welcomes some of the Review’s findings, including the proposal to establish a Joint Competent Authority, bringing in the expertise of the HSE and the fire brigades, to oversee a new fire safety regulatory framework for multiple occupancy high-rise residential buildings. However, the Institute is concerned by the absence of the clear baseline standards that, it argues, would deliver clarity for the industry and, most importantly, provide protection for the public.

Dame Judith’s recommendations relate only to residential buildings above 10 storeys, although she does recognise that the remit of the new fire safety regulatory framework could be widened to encompass a greater range of higher risk buildings in the future.  There is no recommendation to ban combustible materials in external wall construction on high rise buildings nor for the provision of alternative means of escape, and desktop studies are simply re-branded as “assessments in lieu of test.”

RIBA President Ben Derbyshire says:

“This Review should have been a defining moment – a set of findings to bring real and meaningful change to the complexity and confusion surrounding core building regulations guidance. Whilst there are elements of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Review that we very much welcome, we are extremely concerned that it has failed to act on the urgent need to immediately protect life safety through a more detailed programme of simplified and improved regulations, standards and guidance. The Review recognises that the changes it recommends will require legislative change and take time to fully implement.  In the meantime we are left with confusion and lack of clarity.  We will be continuing to stress our detailed concerns to Government.”

Immediate Past President of RIBA and Chair of the RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, Jane Duncan says:

“This was supposed to be a Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. It’s a thorough report on the current state of the regulatory system and construction industry, but it offers no changes whatsoever to the actual regulations or baseline guidance.”

“Focusing on just a small number of very high buildings is a major missed opportunity. By failing to ban the use of combustible materials and ‘desktop’ studies, or require use of sprinklers, the report’s recommendations will not deliver the immediate change that is needed to reassure and safeguard the public. We will be continuing to work with Government to ensure that our recommendations are re-considered.”

The RIBA Expert Group on Fire Safety set out four key recommendations for baseline prescriptive requirements:

  • Non-combustible cladding – external wall construction for existing or new buildings with a storey 18m or more above ground to be comprised of non-combustible (European class A1) materials only.
  • More than one means of escape – In all new multiple occupancy residential buildings, a requirement for at least two staircases, offering alternative means of escape, where the top floor is more than 11m above ground level or the top floor is more than three storeys above the ground level storey (as required for commercial buildings).
  • Sprinklers – retro-fitting of sprinklers / automatic fire suppression systems and centrally addressable fire alarm systems to existing residential buildings above 18m from ground level as “consequential improvements” where a building is subject to ‘material alterations.’
  • Mandatory requirement for sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems and addressable central fire alarms in all new and converted residential buildings, as already required in Wales.