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Landlords urged to avoid quick fix solutions on building safety

The Government’s pledge to ensure that homes “are safe, and feel safe from the risk of fire, now and in the future” is still a long way from being fully met

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the government’s pledge to ensure that homes “are safe, and feel safe from the risk of fire, now and in the future” is still a long way from being fully met, says Vicky Saunders, Managing Director, BTP Architects:

While the appointment of fixer-in-chief Michael Gove to the housing brief has led to some meaningful progress finally being made, the road to ensuring that all existing properties are compliant remains incredibly complex.

While the extension to the Building Safety Levy and confirmation that the biggest developers have signed up to a pledge on rectifying fire safety issues on buildings taller than 11 metres are both welcome steps, we must not fall into the trap of believing that these issues can be solved overnight.

Regulatory delays

One of the most frustrating barriers to undertaking these vital works is the sheer amount of time that the regulatory approval process is currently taking. A damning report published at the beginning of the year by the House of Lords Built Environment Committee highlights the ‘chilling effect’ of confusion and chronic planning delays. 

We’ve experienced regulatory delays of a year and beyond on vital projects that are ready to go in all other respects. At a time of soaring inflation and supply chain complexity, this can have a far-reaching impact on project viability. 

Pandora’s box

There can also be a tendency to under-estimate the complexity of building safety works. Projects often resemble a Pandora’s box, with new challenges emerging as the building is opened up and as new problems emerge, the cost, timescale and complexity of the process only grows. 

Supply and demand

Labour and materials shortages more generally in the housing sector are well documented, and these issues are even more acute when it comes to building safety works. This means that inflation on building safety projects far outstripping general rates, running at eye-watering levels of anything up to 20%.

This strained market also makes due-diligence and working with experienced partners more essential than ever. 

Money, money, money

Despite the progress in recent months, there is still a monumental gap between the available and required funds. While the government’s “polluter pays” rhetoric will be helpful in leveraging cash from the deep pockets of the biggest developers, it could also leave social landlords who led on developments in difficulty.

The voice and rights of tenants seems to have been lost somewhere along the way in all of these discussions, and ultimately a solution will need to be found in cases where social landlords simply do not have the finances to move forward.  

Resisting a race to the bottom

We should not be complacent in assuming that mistakes are no longer being made with some new developments. As long as there is a focus on cost rather than value, the race to the bottom responsible for so many of these issues will persist.

What can be done?

Clearly there is a greater need for government intervention and an acceptance will eventually have to be reached that the intractable difficulties arising from regulatory failures will cost a great deal more money to resolve.

But there is also a simple message for social landlords and developers alike – get the job done properly or it will come back and haunt you later.

It is therefore essential to resist the temptation to rely on cheap desk-based planning in order to save relatively modest sums at the beginning of a project. Instead, experienced, hands-on experts should be involved from the earliest possible stage to root out any nasty surprises on refurbishment projects and to design new developments that last a lifetime.”

Author, Vicky Saunders, Managing Director at BTP.

Pictured left to right: Elliot Denby and Vicky Saunders.

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