The Grenfell Tower tragedy has shone a spotlight on construction in the housebuilding sector, which for a number of years now has suffered from poor quality control and falling standards of construction.
As a speaker at the ‘Big Housing Debate’ in Birmingham earlier this month, the need to reinvigorate the sector’s focus on quality was my key message for registered providers (RPs) and local authorities.
We have seen, and dealt with, many cases where widespread construction defects have been found within tall buildings. There include (to name just a few) inadequacies in fire compartments, penetrations that have not been fire stopped and poorly constructed or missing vertical and horizontal cavity barriers – all of which are essential for fire safety. This is a problem that has plagued the sector for some time and has been exacerbated by a lack of investment in employer-led construction phase quality control.
These quality concerns have just been amplified by the initial findings of the building regulations review, which was ordered after the Grenfell Tower fire. In Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim report, she reveals that the system is ‘not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.’ She has also called for enforcement to ‘hold to account those who try to cut corners’ and said a ‘cultural change’ was needed instead of ‘doing things cheaply’.
This report underlines the urgent need for change. Across the social housing sector, there is too much reliance on design-and-build contractors, often operating on tight profit margins, to get things right without sufficient oversight. In a bid to maintain profit margins, essential elements of the construction process may be passed down the supply chain which can lead to a less robust standard of quality control.
We have seen this in many cases we have dealt with – too often, serious and wide spread construction defects could have been addressed if there were more stringent checks on quality during the construction phase. Such checks are entirely possible and typical in other construction sectors, but they have to be planned correctly, and more importantly, paid for.
What needs to change
To reduce these risks, RPs and local authorities must be more proactive when it comes to quality control. That includes ensuring those that administer the contracts on their behalf are obliged to check quality in a rigorous and planned way, ensuring that inspections take place at critical points in the construction process. That will of course cost more, but it is a price worth paying.
These measures should not only be applied to new builds but refurbishment projects as well.
Time for action
The Grenfell fire has brought fire safety within buildings back into sharp focus. That in turn has led to a greater focus on those elements of the construction process that are necessary to ensure fire safety. The historic lack of quality within the sector is an issue the sector must respond to now.