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BESA welcomes Government’s “admission of guilt” over Grenfell tragedy

06 February 2023

THE BUILDING Engineering Services Association (BESA) believes the Government’s recent admission that it was partly to blame for the Grenfell Tower tragedy is a “crucial step forward” for building safety.

Housing Secretary Michael Gove has admitted that the Building Regulations in place at the time of the June 2017 fire, which claimed 72 lives, were “faulty and unclear”, in turn leaving them open to exploitation.

In a series of interviews with the mainstream media, Gove also admitted that the Government failed to effectively police the “whole system of building safety… which allowed unscrupulous people to exploit a broken system in a way that led to tragedy”.

The BESA has welcomed what it describes as a “noticeable change of stance” since the Grenfell Tower Inquiry took place. While giving evidence during proceedings, lawyers representing the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities claimed that the Building Regulations were “clear and unambiguous”.

Gove has now accepted that the guidance around Part B of the Building Regulations in particular was too loose and open to misinterpretation.

While much of the recent focus has been on forcing developers to put right decades of faulty and unsafe work, the BESA believes it was equally important the Government acknowledged its own failings.

Taking responsibility

“The industry bears a heavy weight of responsibility for the [Grenfell Tower] tragedy and the culture of corner cutting that led to it, but it’s also important to acknowledge where guidance and enforcement failed,” stated David Frise (CEO at the BESA).

Frise continued: “The emergence of the Building Safety Act is a key legacy of Grenfell, but simply putting legislation in place is not going to be enough. The Government must continue to consult closely with the industry to plug any gaps or areas of potential confusion in that legislation and then commit wholeheartedly to enforcing the rules in order to keep people safe. Admitting where it went wrong in the past is, therefore, crucial to ensuring the same mistakes are not repeated.”

Gove informed The Sunday Times that the whole system of regulation was “faulty” and that the Government “did not think hard enough, or police effectively enough, the whole system of building safety.”

The BESA has also praised Gove’s announcement that legislation to create a Responsible Actors Scheme is being drafted. This would then allow the Secretary of State to ban developers from the housing market if they fail to rectify unsafe work.

Remediation contract

As reported by Fire Safety Matters, Gove has given housebuilders six weeks to sign a Government remediation contract requiring them to repair buildings, some of which date back over 30 years, and reimburse taxpayers at an estimated cost of £2 billion. This money will be on top of the Building Safety Levy, which is expected to raise £5 billion from the industry towards cladding replacement projects and other fire safety-related work.

“Too many developers, along with product manufacturers and freeholders, have profited from these unsafe buildings and have a moral duty to do the right thing and pay for their repair,” said Gove. “In signing this contract, developers will be taking a big step towards restoring confidence in the sector and providing much-needed certainty for all concerned. There will be nowhere to hide for those who fail to meet their responsibilities.”

To date, 49 of the country’s leading developers have verbally agreed to address historic construction problems. Importantly, these pledges will now be turned into legally binding commitments.

According to the BESA, this will bring welcome relief to thousands of leaseholders who have found themselves trapped in potentially unsafe and unsaleable properties.

“The construction industry has a very long road to travel to regain people’s trust,” concluded David Frise. “These developments mean that it has started on that journey. The Secretary of State is clearly committed to putting right a huge social injustice. We would urge the Government to keep up the pressure [on developers] and ensure that all of these measures are properly enforced, as well as being backed by the full force of the law.”

CIOB in agreement

Eddie Tuttle, director of policy, external affairs and research at the Chartered Institute of Building, is also supportive of the comments made by Michael Gove.

Tuttle asserted: “The announcement by the Government, which echoes the findings of Dame Judith Hackitt in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, is one that we very much welcome. The Grenfell Tower fire and the subsequent Public Inquiry highlighted the consequences of deregulation and paved the way for the Building Safety Act, but it also revealed the extent to which profit was being prioritised over building quality and safety. The Chartered Institute of Building is wholly committed to ensuring that our industry learns the lessons of the past and works to ensure those who occupy the buildings we go on to create are safe, and feel safe, in their homes.”