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Making Buildings Safer

Posted: 15th September 2020

Graham Watts OBE

Chief Executive

I have heard some commentators say that the government’s 331-page draft Building Safety Bill is insufficiently detailed (because it awaits secondary legislation) while others have argued that there is too much detail proposed for the primary legislation, which will then be difficult to amend once enacted.

The balance between primary and secondary legislation needs to be carefully considered to ensure that there are no delays with these much-needed reforms.

The draft bill expands upon the scope proposed by Dame Judith Hackitt in Building A Safer Future by bringing the height of the multi-occupied buildings to be covered by the new Building Safety Regulator down from 30m to 18m (or six storeys, whichever height is reached first). It seems clear that the intention is for this to be an achievable beginning. Once embedded, we can expect the new regulatory regime to be extended to multi-occupied dwellings, perhaps down to 11m; and possibly to other buildings, lower in height, in which vulnerable people sleep.

As Dame Judith argued - and as the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has shown - improved competence is essential to the achievement of buildings that are safe and in which residents feel safe. It is has been my privilege to chair the Competence Steering Group, an alliance of more than 150 organisations across all sectors concerned with fire and structural safety and the ownership and management of higher-risk residential buildings, which has recently published its final report, Setting the Bar, establishing an overarching competence framework underpinned by detailed competence specifications across twelve occupational sectors (such as Fire Engineers, Installers, Fire Risk Assessors) accompanied by a detailed implementation plan and around sixty recommendations to achieve change.

This works faces back into the sectors where the changes must happen; and also as a benchmark for the new committee on competence, to be established by the Building Safety Regulator, which is to hold the industry to account. It is essential that this does not just mean the “best getting better” and that the age-old culture of “race to the bottom” is not still enabled by a lack of teeth in the final legislation. There must be no backdoor ways into persuading dutyholders of the competence of those that they engage.

The draft bill’s proposal to establish six dutyholders is a big step forward to counteract a “pass the buck” mentality but the devil will be in the detail and this will need to be carefully monitored in the primary and secondary legislation. Although not intended as a dutyholder (since that role will be occupied by the “Accountable Person”), the new regulated role of Building Safety Manager creates an entirely new profession and the CSG has published a second report, alongside Setting the Bar, entitled Safer People, Safer Homes: Building Safety Management. This is an essential blueprint to the context, role and responsibilities of the BSM. There are several factors that will need to be addressed in order to transition to the new regime and the availability of sufficient competent people to fulfil the necessary role of the BSM on every building in scope to the new legislation will be key.

Three years after the Grenfell tragedy, people are right to continually question what is being done to make sure such a dreadful conflagration never reoccurs. It has been a long and difficult journey and many decisions have been arrived at too late (not least in government support to remediate ACM and similar cladding on existing buildings) but the beginning of a new safer regime for buildings is now before us and it has to be grasped and pursued with vigour by everyone who can make a difference.

Contributor: Graham Watts is the Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Council, a Member of the MHCLG Industry Response Group and Chair of its Competence Steering Group.

This article was originally published in FIRE Magazine

Graham Watts OBE

Chief Executive

Graham has been involved with CIC since 1989. Initially, as a member of the Council, it’s Executive Board and then as a Director. He was appointed Chief Executive and Secretary in October 1991. Prior to joining CIC, Graham was Chief Executive of the British Institute of Architectural Technologists (a member of CIC) from 1983.

Graham is responsible for the general policy and direction of the Council, for maintaining effective communication with Government, other external agencies and with members and for establishing and maintaining the CIC Secretariat and office.

Graham is an Honorary Fellow of RIBA, CIBSE, CABE, ICWCI, BIID, CICES and the Faculty of Building and an Honorary Member of the RICS and CIAT. He was awarded the President’s Medal of the CIOB in 2000 and the Peter Stone Award of the Association of Building Engineers in 1996.

Graham is currently a director of CIC Approved Inspectors Register (CICAIR Ltd); Construction Umbrella Bodies (Holdings) Ltd; the Considerate Constructors’ Scheme; and Constructionarium Ltd. He was a Visiting Professor at the University of Northumbria for twelve years from 2000. He has been Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment since 2010.

Graham is a member of the Industry Response Group, set up by the MHCLG in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and Chaired the Competence Working Group set up to assist Dame Judith Hackitt’s Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. Following the report publication he is now Chair of the Steering Group charged with implementing the recommendations on improving competence for all those engaged in designing, construction, managing and maintaining higher-risk residential buildings, this includes oversight of the competence work being carried out in the Fire and Rescue Services.

Graham had a long involvement in the sport of fencing and his competitive career culminated with a Commonwealth Medal in 1990. In 1992, he captained the British Sabre team at the Barcelona Olympic Games. He was the Manager of the British Fencing Team from 1996 and the Performance Director of the British Olympic Fencing Team for 10 years from 2000 to 2010, and Team Leader at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics Games.

Outside of CIC, he is an established international dance writer and critic. He is a member of The Critics’ Circle, the UNESCO Dance Council, Dance UK and the Society of Dance Research. He has been Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle since 2009 and of the National Dance Awards since 2010. In 2012, he was author of Daria Klimentová’s Autobiography “Agony and Ecstasy: My Life in Dance”.

Graham received an OBE in the New Years Honours in 2008 for his services to the construction industry.