Beyond the striking human tragedy caused by the Grenfell Tower fire, the disaster has brought into sharp focus the nature of fire and building regulation. There are two inquiries taking place as a result of this tragedy, which are likely to lead to substantial changes to building regulations and fire safety.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire

The inquiry will include two phases, which will run concurrently. Phase one will look at how the fire started and spread, the responses of the emergency services and the evacuation of residents. Phase two will look at the design and refurbishment of the building, the relevant decision-making processes involved in delivering the refurbishment and the efforts to provide food and shelter to survivors.

The terms of reference for the inquiry include:

  • Grenfell Tower’s design, construction and modification.
  • The scope and adequacy of the building regulations and fire regulations relating to high-rise residential buildings.
  • The levels of regulatory compliance at Grenfell Tower.

The list of issues published at the inquiry’s opening on 14 September 2017 revealed further detail. Amongst other issues, Sir Martin Moore-Bick is to review what modifications were made to the building, whether those modifications complied with the relevant building regulations and fire regulations and, to the extent that it was compliant, were any of those regulations inadequate.

The intention is that an interim report will be published by Easter 2018. No date has yet been set for the publication of the final report.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s review into building regulations and fire safety

Dame Judith Hackitt’s review into building regulations and fire safety was announced by the Government on 28 July 2017 and its terms of reference were published on 30 August 2017.

The review’s two key priorities are to develop a more robust regulatory system for the future and provide further assurance to residents that the buildings they live in are safe. It will cover the regulatory system for all buildings but will have a specific focus on multi occupancy high rise residential buildings. It is intended that the review will:

  • Map the current regulatory system (i.e. the regulations, guidance and processes) as it applies to new and existing buildings through planning, design, construction, maintenance, refurbishment and change management.
  • Consider the competencies, duties and balance of responsibilities of key individuals within the system in ensuring that fire safety standards are adhered to.
  • Assess the coherence of the current regulatory system and how it operates in practice.
  • Compare this with other international regulatory systems for buildings and regulatory systems in other sectors with similar safety risks.
  • Make recommendations that ensure the regulatory system is fit for purpose with a particular focus on multi-occupancy high-rise residential buildings.

An interim report is expected this autumn with the final report scheduled to be published in spring 2018.

Conclusion

The reports and recommendations emanating from these inquiries are likely to have a significant impact on the construction industry.

It remains to be seen whether the existing regulatory regime ultimately and inadvertently encouraged too much of a process driven environment, which deviated away from its intended purposes.

A key concern will be whether buildings are safe and whether compliance with existing building regulations is sufficient to ensure such safety.

These inquiries could revolutionise the regulatory landscape, including new building regulations, amendments to fire safety procedures and changes to the allocation of supervisory responsibilities during construction. However, the most important issue for all concerned will be to ensure that any new regulatory regime is fit for purpose and minimises the risk of another tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire.