Arita Morris, Child Graddon Lewis reports on the latest Technical Expert Panel meeting with a refreshed panel, with experts in design, law, and manufacturing.
The mantra that governs the technical EP is ‘Its not what we build but how we build’. The previous panels in Round 1 and 2 discussed the Building safety Bill, Fire Safety Bill, Procurement, education, skills, barriers to digital transformation and the culture of health and safety.
The third round of the Technical EP, commenced with a refreshed panel but still comprising a broad range of expert professionals. This round included experts in design, law and manufacturing and for the first time we met in person!
As always we began with the reminder that the first technical EP followed in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy.
After four years, the inquiry has concluded hearings for the final phase. The inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick is working on a final report that will determine the causes of the fire and the responsibilities of those involved. This will no doubt be a seminal moment, for as noted in his closing statement ‘…the wider causes of the fire have their roots in the culture of the construction industry and the regulatory regime,…Many decisions, taken by many people over the course of many years, conspired to create a building which in June 2017 was vulnerable to a catastrophic fire.” His report will be considered as part of criminal proceedings by the Crown Prosecution Service. There will also be a Coroners Report that will be as important.
The Technical EP has discussed a wide range of issues in relation to the culture and skills that have been mentioned through the inquiry. Added to this, the pandemic lockdowns and health and wellbeing as it relates to internal environments have strengthened in the consciousness of people; who would have thought that ventilation and air changes per hour would be the subject of so many column inches? The impact on the health of children is brought sharply into focus with the tragic deaths of Awaab Ishak and Ella Kissi-Debrah both suffering from respiratory conditions linked to their home environments.
How buildings affect users and the process that governs decision-making is the context within which the panel explored core themes of building safety, competence, skills, digital transformation and retrofit. Common themes emerged that will be expanded through focus subgroups:
- The effectiveness of larger, more specialised design teams and new roles required by the BSA - how can these can be managed and coordinated, is competence being segmented into smaller and more specialised professional roles? Does this reduce collaboration and shared responsibility?
- Reliability of materials specification and subcontractors installing on-site continues to be an issue. These critical issues are stubbornly resistant to change. What can be done to change this culture?
- The gap between existing and emerging legislation, and legal responsibilities.
- The impact on innovation of an increasingly rigid legal/insurance environment.
- Retrofit is now considered essential in the drive for more sustainable outcomes, but this relies on good quality data and skilled contractors to guide good decision-making and avoid unintended consequences. What are the pitfalls facing the Government’s energy efficiency taskforce ensuring skills and knowledge avoiding consequences of poor retrofitting – condensation, lack of ventilation, fire safety etc.
- If reuse of materials promotes more sustainable outcomes, what type of quality /certification should there be to enable future reuse that is also safe for users?
If people are willing to talk about air changes in the local papers, there is every possibility that the wider discussion and interest in the quality of our buildings and how they are put together cannot be made more accessible; the NLA and Technical EP will continue to bring that energy to this important debate.