The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has published its response to the government’s Building a Safer Future consultation, which proposes reforms to England’s current building safety regulations.

The RIBA called for a complete overhaul of the building regulations in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and welcomes many of the proposals, in particular tighter regulation of higher risk residential buildings of 18m or more in height (rather than 30m plus which was originally recommended by the Government’s 2018 Independent Review of Building Regulations on Fire Safety).

However, the institute is concerned that England still lags behind other countries, including Wales and Scotland, in putting in place base line regulatory standards to ensure that high rise and other higher risk buildings are safe for the public. The institute urges the Government to:

  • widen the scope of the new regulatory system to apply to non-residential buildings – the new building regulatory system should apply to other higher risk non-residential buildings at any height, including places where vulnerable people sleep, such as care homes, hospitals, hotels, hostels, prisons, as well as schools and places of assembly, during the design and construction phase.
  • make significant changes to the responsibilities for all dutyholders – dutyholders based on the Construction (Design and Management) regulations model are essential. However, the duties proposed are not clearly defined and are not currently workable as set out in the consultation, particularly on design and build projects.
  • designate the Architect’s Registration Board (ARB) to oversee enhanced competence requirements of architects – as regulator the ARB should be responsible for the accreditation and licensing of architectural qualifying bodies, including the RIBA, who will hold registers for competent architects to work on buildings in scope of the proposed regulatory framework.
  • ensure all technical guidance issued to industry is improved by the new Building Safety Regulator –this should include setting baseline prescriptive requirements for fire safety and reviewing all relevant British Standards guidance documents, particularly those relevant to fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings.

Jane Duncan, Chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, said “Although a step in the right direction, the government’s proposals do not go far enough to protect the public and more work is needed, particularly to more clearly define the statutory duties of all involved in the industry. There have been many failings in England’s building safety regulations, exposed by the Grenfell tragedy two years ago, but we hope the government will act on their commitment post-Grenfell to ensure residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes.”

The government is inviting views on a new building safety regime, as it seeks to bring forward new legislation to keep residents safe.

The Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017 resulted in the greatest loss of life in a residential fire in a century. It shattered the lives of many people and shook the trust of countless more in a system that was intended to ensure the most basic human need of having a safe place to live.

Following research into building safety culture across the industry, it became apparent that too many in the building industry were taking short cuts that could endanger residents in the very place they were supposed to feel safest – their own home. That’s why the government commissioned Dame Judith Hackitt, an engineer and former chair of the UK Health and Safety Executive, to review the system and find out how it can be improved.

Dame Judith’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety made it clear that there needs to be a culture change in the industry, underpinned by changing how homes are designed, built, maintained and managed in the future.

Following the review, the government began analysing Dame Judith’s recommendations to understand what needed to be done to overhaul the system. To make sure residents are safe and feel safe in their homes, it became evident that the government needed to take forward all of Dame Judith’s recommendations and go further.

Having your say

In December 2018, the government published its plan to make building regulations stronger and more effective. The plan, Building a Safer Future, committed the government to ensuring that high-rise residential buildings are safe to live in.

The government intends to bring forward new laws to improve building safety. Before doing this, it has launched a consultation (see the quick read) on the details and invites your views over the next 8 weeks.

What the government is doing

The consultation proposes a stronger voice for residents of high-rise buildings to ensure their concerns are never ignored. This includes better information regarding their buildings so that they can participate in decisions about safety, as well as clear and quick routes of escalation for their concerns if things do go wrong.

Clearer accountability for building safety

Dame Judith recommended the creation of a system of ‘dutyholders’, people who will have responsibility for keeping residents of these buildings safe, and making sure building regulations are followed. Dutyholders will be responsible for keeping vital safety information about how the building was designed and built and is managed. This is known as the ‘golden thread’ of information and will be kept electronically for the entire life of a building, from its design to its place as a home for residents. The people responsible for this information will have to make sure it is up to date and that the right people can access it, including residents.

Powers and sanctions

If the people responsible for a building ignore their responsibilities, a new building safety regulator will have the authority to take enforcement action against them. This could include criminal and civil sanctions, like fines or imprisonment.

The building safety regulator will be responsible for overseeing the safety of new and existing buildings. Their strong focus will be on checking that safety is being properly considered and necessary safety measures are put in place when new high rise residential buildings are being designed and built, and that robust safety measures are in place for existing buildings.

The intention is that, as a result, the regulator and people responsible for a building’s safety will be working towards the common goal at the heart of the new regime – the safety of residents.

The government is also consulting on new ways of ensuring that construction products are safe and used properly.

Implementing clearer standards and guidance

For the building safety regulator to work effectively, clearer standards and guidance need to be produced. For construction products and systems standards, the government proposes creating a new standards committee to provide it with impartial advice on the new standards and guidance.

The government has also consulted on a full-scale technical review of the building regulations guidance on fire safety, known as Approved Document B. The intention is to improve accessibility and usability of the guidance by publishing a single, online searchable document of all the approved documents and guide to the building regulations so everyone in the industry is clear on how to use them.

Taking action

Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the government committed to reforming the building industry to make sure a tragedy like this does not happen again. The aim is for these building safety reforms to work together to improve safety by creating a culture change in the building industry.

The safety of residents is of the greatest importance and steps are already being taken to strengthen the power residents hold and ensure their views and concerns are listened to by those responsible for managing their buildings. This includes through the Social Housing Green Paper, New Homes Ombudsman and the recent call for evidence on how residents and landlords can work together to keep their building safe, and the Social Landlords Best Practice Group, capturing and sharing effective ways for residents and landlords to work together on building safety.

The government is funding the replacement of unsafe aluminium composite material cladding, like the type used on Grenfell Tower, from high-rise residential homes and has introduced a ban on combustible materials on the external walls of new high-rise buildings.

Residents, building owners, the construction industry and the fire safety sector are all encouraged to make their voices heard by participating in the consultation and helping shape the future of building and fire safety to make sure residents are safe and feel safe in their homes.

The Home Office has also launched a call for evidence on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England. The call for evidence is the first part of a process to ensure that the Fire Safety Order is fit for purpose for all buildings it regulates.

Commenting on the formal opening of the Grenfell Tower inquiry today, CIH director for Northern Ireland Nicola McCrudden said: “The tragedy of Grenfell Tower has rightfully created a renewed focus on housing and health, and ensuring that these awful events never happen again. The victims and everyone affected by this tragedy are owed this, and more.”

Ms McCrudden said “We need a UK-wide discussion about the value and the future of social housing.

“For every person who fears for their safety after the tragedy, there are many more who cannot secure a home or who are struggling to keep their home.

“Fundamentally, everyone deserves to live in a safe home. Everyone should be able to close their front door and know that they are out of harm’s way.”

Ms McCrudden was speaking ahead of the CIH annual conference on health and housing today in Belfast. She said ensuring that people were safe and secure in their homes went far beyond physical housing standards as highlighted by Grenfell.

“We have an ageing population that wants to stay in their homes and communities. We need to adapt existing homes to meet their needs and ensure their wellbeing. We also need robust planning for more housing options for older people.

“Housing with care options can help people to regain independence and skills to care for themselves, including when they are discharged from hospital.

“Delays in discharging patients is one of the factors that prevents hospital beds being freed up, and increases pressure on A&E departments.

“Every waiting-list target in health is being missed in Northern Ireland. Housing can play a central role in relieving pressures on our health service, reducing demand for costly health and social care interventions.”

A survey carried out by US recruitment firm Manpower has found that of more than 2,000 UK employers confidence among public sector firms had improved radically in the last three months, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Participating British businesses were asked how they viewed the jobs market and whether they had plans in the pipeline their workforce over the next 12 months. Those in the UK construction trade reported a net employment outlook of +11% for the final quarter of 2017.

That represents the strongest outlook of any UK sector and a 6% increase on the third quarter.

The Grenfell Tower fire in June spread through cladding on the building which subsequently failed safety tests, claiming at least 80 lives.

Many other public housing projects — predominantly high-rise buildings — have since failed safety tests due to unsafe cladding.

James Hick, managing director for Manpower Group Solutions, said expansion in the UK construction trade was driven by those bids to improve public housing.

Hick commented “Construction hiring often slows in the winter months, but the UK is set to buck the trend this year — our data suggests this could be the strongest fourth quarter for hiring since 2005.

“Some of this work is the urgent testing and repair that is being carried out up and down the country on much of Britain’s public housing stock.

“The state of housing in the country is under the microscope like never before and the need for both building and remedial work have caused demand in the construction industry to shoot up.

“The tough reality lurking beneath all these positive indicators is that these hiring intentions may not come to fruition because of difficulties attracting and retaining skilled employees.”

Building fires occur at an alarmingly high frequency and have an impact that goes way beyond that of the owners and its immediate occupiers. The fire safety guidance of the Building Regulations (provided by Approved Document B – ADB) is based on a consideration of life safety impacts. However, the true impact of a fire is much more than life safety as a fire has economic, social and environmental implications. So why is property protection not given greater consideration?

In the last month or so we have seen fires at Weybridge Community Hospital, Smoby Toys in Bradford and Camden Market and none more devastating that Grenfell Tower. The buildings are a mix of 70’s high rise residential, industrial warehousing, modern health and a historic market. Whilst they appear to have little in common they do share a number of similarities in that none of them had sprinkler systems and all of them have implications that will affect many, many people.

Grenfell Tower has rightly occupied the headlines due to tragic loss of life and its repercussions continue to make headlines. Whilst there is general consensus that regulations need to be urgently reviewed there are a number of other issues that need to be addressed. The issue of rehousing the survivors of Grenfell Tower highlighted the issue of continuity. Trying to find homes for the families has been an extremely difficult task. It is similar for the retailers at Camden Market, North Surrey Clinical Commissioning Group and Smoby Toys. They all have businesses to run that have now been left with no premises.

This loss of premises is not just a construction issue it is also an economic issue. To put it into perspective, Home Office figures have shown that in the last three years, there have been 22,800 fires in industrial and commercial premises. If you take into account research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), which states fires in warehouses (which account for 15% of industrial and commercial building stock) result in a direct financial loss to business of £230 million per year a bigger picture starts to emerge.

These warehouse fires create a loss of £190 million per year in GDP through lost productivity and supply chain impacts. They also lose the treasury £32 million in tax receipts and are the responsible for 1,000 job losses. And remember this is just warehouse fires. Imagine what the figure is when we consider fires in industrial buildings, health, leisure and workplaces.

One solution to address the issue of property protection is the incorporation of automatic sprinkler systems. Having sprinklers fitted protects businesses in the long run. They safeguard against potentially disastrous losses and also aid with life safety. By preventing large fires, sprinklers also protect the environment by avoiding CO2 emissions, reducing excess water use by the fire brigade and eliminating water supply contamination. Above all, they maintain business continuity. In the event of a fire, many businesses with sprinkler systems find they are back up and running in a matter of hours.

We are still feeling the knock on effects of the recent spate of fires in the UK. Hopefully with a review of ADB and an extension of the locus to include more of a focus on property protection and due consideration towards sprinklers, we can start to reduce this and provide businesses with the protection they need and deserve.

For more information about the Business Sprinkler Alliance visit

By Iain Cox, Chairman of the BSA

The latest in the government’s series of fire safety tests of cladding and insulation combinations has been completed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

These large scale tests will allow experts to better understand how different types of cladding panels behave with different types of insulation in a fire. The results of the first 5 tests have already been published.

This additional test was of a wall cladding system consisting of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding with a fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) with phenolic foam insulation.

The government’s expert panel advises that the results show that the combination of materials used in the test does not meet current Building Regulations guidance.

Initial screening tests have identified 22 buildings over 18 metres tall in England known to have a combination of ACM with a fire retardant polyethylene filler with phenolic foam insulation. Cladding samples from each of these buildings had already failed earlier combustibility tests conducted by BRE and their owners were sent government advice detailing the immediate interim safety measures that needed to be completed. Appropriate measures have been put in place for all 22 of these buildings.

Government has also provided these building owners with additional detailed advice setting out the actions they need to take to ensure the safety of residents going forward. Government is working closely with these building owners to ensure this advice is being followed.

The series of large-scale tests initially included 6 combinations of cladding systems. On 8 August 2017, the government announced that on the advice of the expert panel it would undertake a further large-scale test of ACM with fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) with phenolic foam insulation. This is to further build the evidence available for experts and building owners so they can make informed safety decisions.

Results of the final large-scale test (ACM with a limited combustibility filler with mineral wool insulation) – and consolidated advice to landlords based on all the 7 tests – will be published shortly.

The government announced an independent review of building regulations and fire safety on 28 July 2017. This forward looking review will examine the regulatory system around the design, construction and on-going management of buildings in relation to fire safety as well as related compliance and enforcement issues.

A cladding system using stonewall insulation has become the first to pass new fire safety tests ordered by the government since the Grenfell tragedy in June.

The fourth in the government’s series of large-scale fire safety tests, that will allow experts to better understand how different types of cladding panels behave with different types of insulation in a fire, has been completed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

This fourth test was of a wall cladding system consisting of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding with a fire resistant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) and stone wool insulation (a form of mineral wool). This combination of materials has passed the test.

The government’s Expert Panel advise that the results show that this combination of materials can be compliant with current Building Regulations when installed and maintained properly. It could therefore offer a possible solution for some buildings with other cladding systems which have been identified as a hazard.

However the Expert Panel note that cladding and insulation materials can vary between manufacturers and can have different calorific values. The way materials have been fitted and maintained can also affect the safety of the cladding system.

Therefore the clear advice from the Expert Panel is that building owners need to continue to take professional advice as to whether any remedial work is necessary to ensure the safety of their building. The test results will help inform this work but they must also take into account the specific circumstances of their building.

13 buildings over 18 metres tall in England are known to have this combination of ACM with a fire resistant polyethylene filler (category 2) and stone wool insulation. Following initial screening tests, government issued advice to building owners detailing immediate interim safety measures that needed to be undertaken. These measures have been completed for all 13 of these buildings.

The Department for Communities and Local Government concluded “The clear advice from the Expert Panel is that building owners need to continue to take professional advice as to whether any remedial work is necessary to ensure the safety of their building.”

The Local Government Association is today calling on government to launch an “urgent and immediate” review of building regulations.

Lord Porter, LGA Chairman, said “Following on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we want the Government to begin an urgent and immediate review of building regulations. We cannot wait for the result of the public inquiry or coroner’s report before this review is started. We have to act based on what we know now, while being prepared to revisit the building regulations again in the future if any additional lessons need to be learned.

“There is complexity and confusion in the current system that must be addressed and local government must play a central role in this review from the outset. The review needs to consider how easy it is to use, comply with and understand the building regulations and the associated documents supporting them, particularly those relating to the installation of cladding and insulation on external walls of buildings and how the building control, fire safety and planning regimes interact.

“Councils will do whatever it takes to ensure our residents are all safe in their homes. We have been clear all along that entire cladding panels and the insulation behind them need to be fire tested together as a system, rather than just the core of the panels on their own, and are also pleased these much-needed changes to the testing process will now happen. It is vital that we get this right and this whole-system testing needs to happen as soon as possible.

“We are concerned that the Building Research Establishment (BRE), carrying out safety tests, does not feel able to release the results of previous cladding system tests, as these are deemed commercially confidential. If the public are going to have faith in this fire safety testing process then everything needs to be out in the open. It is no time for contractors or manufacturers to withhold test results from both councils and the public.

“The industry and BRE needs to waive this confidentiality in the public interest to assist the Government and councils in gathering as complete a picture as possible of what is and is not acceptable in cladding systems. These are exceptional circumstances when not only the safety of thousands of residents, but also the peace of mind of many more, is at stake.”

Large scale tests will help establish how different types of ACM panels in combination with different types of insulation behave in a fire.

The independent expert panel on safety has advised further testing as the next step to be conducted in helping landlords to ensure the safety of their buildings.

These large scale tests will help establish how different types of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panels in combination with different types of insulation behave in a fire.

The results of these tests will help landlords make decisions on any further measures that may need to be put in place to make their buildings safe following the Grenfell Tower fire. These tests will be undertaken by the BRE and will not require any new samples from buildings.

Earlier this week the panel brought together a group of technical experts from a wide range of professions and organisations. The group discussed the processes that had been followed to identify whether buildings had ACM panels and the advice provided to building owners on interim measures and agreed that these were the right first steps.

The further tests – which will look at 3 different types of ACM cladding combined with different types of insulation – will be in accordance with British Standard 8414 in line with the panel’s advice. This involves building a 9 metres tall demonstration wall with a complete cladding system – including panels and insulation – fixed to it, and then subjecting it to a fire that replicates a severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window and whether it then spread up the outside wall.

In addition, the Expert Advisory Panel recommended issuing further practical advice on immediate steps landlords can take to identify their wall materials including insulation, which will be published shortly.

The government has now commissioned the Building Research Establishment to undertake these tests as a matter of urgency. The results will be made publically available. Landlords will be expected to take their own professional advice on what is required for their buildings in the usual way.

Police have confirmed that the blaze was started by a faulty Hotpoint fridge freezer and that the insulation used in the refurbishment was actually more flammable and contributory to the inferno than the cladding tiles.

In a statement to the press, Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack said “preliminary tests show the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower combusted soon after the tests started. The initial tests on the equivalent aluminium composite tiles failed also.” McCormack also confirmed that the police are now planning on investigating the manner in which the tiles were fixed to the building and how the installation process attributed to the fire.

Although the current death toll sits at 9 at the time of writing, it is expected to rise to 79 as more of the charred building becomes accessible to recovery teams. Manslaughter charges are currently being considered.

Thousands of households across the UK have been warned this week that the buildings they live in are also clad in similar flammable systems, or around 600 towers according to estimates from the Communities and Local Government. This is now a matter of high urgency to rectify, to prevent similar accidents happening in the future.

David Orr, Chief Executive at the National Housing Federation, said “Since the tragic fire that took place last Wednesday at Grenfell Tower, housing associations across the country have worked tirelessly to reassure tenants, carry out additional safety checks and, in London, offer support to the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

“Right now, housing associations are working closely with DCLG to identify and test any tower blocks with ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding. And, while the cause of the fire and its spread remains unconfirmed, housing associations will be scrupulous in carrying out other fire safety checks for example on sprinklers, smoke control systems and emergency procedures.

“We want to reassure residents of these blocks that testing on your building does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe, and in instances where cladding is found to be combustible, action will be taken.

“As always, the sector’s first priority is its residents. We will work in partnership with local authorities and fire services across the country to ensure people in tower blocks are safe and secure.”