It is four years since the blaze at Grenfell Tower cast a dark shadow across the construction industry. The tragic events brought unspeakable human cost, prompted long overdue discussions about building safety, cost cutting, competence and taking responsibilitiy for your actions in the design and construction process.
The design and construction industry was castigated by Dame Judith Hackitt for its woeful approach and archaic structure. Many of the survivors of Grenfell are still waiting for justice and at the Inquiry they have seen the product manufacturers and contractors exposed.
Even now, despite government promises many thousands of leaseholders are stuck with flats in unsafely clad buildings and in many cases, forced to pick up the tab for making them safe.
As the government comes under pressure to find more funding, construction would also do well to brace itself to pick up the tab for fixing poor fire safety and build quality that has come to light since Grenfell.
The construction sector has had to make changes in response to new legislation and regulations. The Building Safety Act clearly places responsibilities and highlights that everyone need to be held to account for ther actions.
The sector faces unique challenges with complex decision making and many influences on product selection and construction methods. Misleading product safety tests have led to an overhaul of how construction products are marketed and shown to be fit for purpose. There is now greater awareness and understanding that the selection of products is not just a question of cost.
Matters are further complicated by the nature of the relationships between members of a project team that are dependent on the type of contract used. Design and quality intentions can change at the stroke of a value engineering pen as clients and contractors battle to make numbers stack up.
What is clear from the events of recent years is that change can only be driven by legislation. Self regulation has many benefits but if change is optional sadly some will still only do what they want to do, or get away with.
The overwhelming majority in the construction supply chain want high standards. But to achieve this there needs to be a stronger focul point of leadership and decision making.
The government still change construction ministers like a golfer changes their clubs and it needs more focused commitment to a sector that represents 9% of GDP.
Civil servants and ministers still lack awareness of how some of their decisions impact on the built environment – please note the confusion over the replacement of CE marking. And it’s tampering with building regs is likely to cost residential leaseholders billions.
Four years on from the disaster in West London construction has had to take a look in the mirror. Building safety and quality are integrated with commercial issues and skills, or lack of them, and until the new Building Safety Act is enforced on all buildings and infrastructure, the sector will be exposed to another Grenfell.
Well…the sector must continue to reduce fragmentation, set clear lines of measurable responsibility, and build greater respect for its end product to stand a chance of being in a better place in another four years.