ASBP contribution on the Terms of Reference for the Grenfell Tower Inquiry

In June, the Prime Minister announced that there would be a Public Inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower. The scope of the public inquiry is fixed by its Terms of Reference, which have not yet been determined.

Through a public consultation, the Chair of the inquiry Sir Martin Moore-Bick is seeking views on what should be covered. The ASBP has recently submitted its contribution to the the Terms of Reference, which can be read below.

The Alliance for Sustainable Building Products is an independent not-for-profit member organisation concerned with the development and use of more sustainable construction products. This contribution to the Terms of Reference for the inquiry is restricted to matters that influence the realm of construction products.

The Grenfell Tower disaster should act as a wake-up call to the whole construction industry. We know that the failings go beyond the specific and beyond the purely technical, to bigger and more complex problems of governance of the built environment, and to the wider industry culture where responsibility and risk is not shared but re-packaged and passed on in ever more complex ways.

The industry needs to undertake a complete re-appraisal that should consider everything from standard setting, building and product warranties and risk management through to building control and the approach to skills and workmanship. This tragedy needs to act as a catalyst for rejecting the culture that prevails and find new and better ways to build.

The Grenfell Tower fire represents a catastrophic failure of industry governance and regulatory frameworks. Given such systemic failure, it is essential that the inquiry draws upon evidence from truly independent experts, which may best be found from overseas and from other industries.

However, it is essential to react proportionately when we move from the enquiry to the phase of implementing any recommendations. The ASBP has long argued for a more balanced approach to regulation. There has been an over-emphasis on theoretical performance gains from reduced operational energy to the detriment of other important issues such as embodied energy, build quality and occupant health. We now need to be mindful of an over-emphasis on fire performance.

Comments on the Terms of Reference

It is widely acknowledged and largely culturally accepted that most buildings fail to meet the performance intended. The energy performance gap (the difference between the designed and as-built energy performance) is but one example of this failure. Of course, the difference in the case of Grenfell Tower is the catastrophic nature of this failure. In order to understand how such systemic failure has continued relatively unchallenged, the net of the enquiry must be cast wide.

1. What do you think the Inquiry should cover?

The inquiry should cover all aspects of governance and regulation of the built environment, with a focus on the development and implementation of product and system standards.

The inquiry should cover the role of the private sector in influencing both standard setting and control.  A particular focus should be given to conflicts of interest. In particular whether the private sector exerts undue influence over those providing government with advice on standard setting and regulations.

The inquiry should seek to understand how risk is quantified, managed and transferred. The inquiry should seek to explore the role of sub-contracting and self-employment in influencing the quality of output.

The inquiry should explore training and skills provision in the UK at all levels with a focus upon attitudes to workmanship, craftsmanship and individual responsibility.

The inquiry should explore procurement regulation and practice and its role in encouraging a focus on cost rather than value.

2. Is there any type of evidence that you think is essential for the Inquiry to obtain?

When exploring the potential for conflicts of interest in the setting and implementation of regulations it is important to gather detailed commercial and financial information.

Evidence of undue influence throughout the supply and value chain should be obtained.  Identifying points where undue influence could be exerted is essential.

When exploring the technical aspects of the fire it is important to gather data of a technical nature, to shed light on the extent to which the rate of combustion and the prevalence of toxic combustion by-products influenced outcomes.”

 

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