This week, the RIBA raised serious concerns over the direction of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt and commenced in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The RIBA set up the Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower and since then has been working with Dame Judith on the Review. This week however, the Group wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid MP, urging an immediate consideration of the recommendations laid out by the RIBA before the final report is due in May.
In the letter to Sajid Javid from the Chair of the Group, Jane Duncan, we welcomed the suggestions in Dame Judith’s interim report that there should be clearer definition and allocation of statutory duties, increased independent oversight of construction quality and better building control enforcement. However, we raised significant concerns that key changes to ban flammable cladding, require sprinklers to be fitted and ensure there is a second means of escape for high rise residential buildings seem to have been overlooked.
The RIBA's recommendations
We have made four key recommendations:
- External walls of buildings over 18m in height to be constructed of non-combustible (European class A1) materials only
- More than one means of vertical escape from new multiple occupancy residential buildings over 11 metres high, consistent with current regulations for commercial buildings (which are arguably lower risk)
- Retro-fitting of sprinklers / automatic fire suppression systems to existing residential buildings above 18m from ground level in height as “consequential improvements” where an existing building is subject to 'material alterations'
- Sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems in all new and converted residential buildings, as currently required under Regulations 37A and 37B of the Building Regulations for Wales
The chair of the RIBA’s Expert Group and the Institute’s Immediate Past resident Jane Duncan expresses worry that the current set of proposals under consideration by Dame Judith Hackitt will not provide clarity for professionals or deliver assurance for the public.
Immediate Past President of RIBA and Chair of the RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, Jane Duncan says:
“The RIBA has engaged closely with Dame Judith and her Review and we welcome many of the suggestions made in her interim report to strengthen the building control system. However, we fear that the current set of proposals under consideration overlook simple but critical changes that would provide clarity for professionals and most importantly, would help protect the public. Sprinklers, a second means of escape and a ban on flammable cladding for high rise residential buildings are common-sense recommendations, and a basic requirement in many other countries. We have written to the Secretary of State making clear that there must be a thorough re-writing of the building regulations and guidance on all aspects of fire safety, to avoid continuation of the regulatory failings that lead to the Grenfell Tower fire.”