This week, the RIBA has responded to the Government's consultation on the use of 'desktop studies' to certify fire safety regulatory compliance. Ahead of the publication of Dame Judith Hackitt’s final report on the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, the RIBA's response expressed extreme concern that the government may continue to allow the use of desktop studies, simply rebranding them “assessments in lieu of test.”
Desktop studies have been a significant contributing factor in the regulatory failure revealed by the retrospective cladding testing programme introduced after the Grenfell Tower fire.
Immediate Past President of RIBA and Chair of the RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, Jane Duncan says:
“The proposed assessment in lieu of a full fire safety test suggested by the Government’s consultation is effectively no better than renaming a desktop study – simply a form of window dressing.
Dame Judith’s report is imminent – we strongly urge more significant change. This is a watershed moment – stronger prescriptive guidance is needed to provide clarity to the industry and most importantly, to protect the public.”
All successful building control systems around the world, including the International Building Code, rely on a significant element of prescriptive regulation and guidance.
The RIBA is calling on Dame Judith Hackitt to recommend and the Government to implement the following baseline regulatory requirements:
- External walls of buildings over 18m in height to be constructed of non-combustible (European class A1) materials only
- More than one means of vertical escape from new multiple occupancy residential buildings over 11 metres high, consistent with current regulations for commercial buildings (which are arguably lower risk)
- Retro-fitting of sprinklers / automatic fire suppression systems to existing residential buildings above 18m from ground level in height as “consequential improvements” where an existing building is subject to 'material alterations'
- Sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems in all new and converted residential buildings, as currently required under Regulations 37A and 37B of the Building Regulations for Wales
The RIBA will be hosting a fire safety conference, Protecting Lives: Design and Construction Post Grenfell, on 12 June, 9:30am to 5pm. Tickets cost £45 for RIBA members, and £60 for non-members.