Examination of Witnesses

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:33 am on 9th September 2021.

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Sir Ken Knight CBE and Dan Daly gave evidence.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke 11:40 am, 9th September 2021

We are now sitting in public again and the proceedings are being broadcast. Before we start to hear from witnesses, I encourage Members who wish to make a declaration of interest in connection with the Bill to do so. First, I will put my own interests on the record. My husband is a partner in Kingsley Napley LLP, whose clients include those involved in the building industry.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I am still a sitting councillor in Liverpool.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Thank you. I remind colleagues that if you feel there are things that you should register, you can talk to the Clerks during our proceedings.

We will now hear oral evidence from our first panel of witnesses: Sir Ken Knight, the independent panel expert, and Dan Daly, head of the protection policy and reform unit at the National Fire Chiefs Council. Before calling the first Member to ask a question, I remind all Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill and that we must stick to the timings on the programme motion that the Committee has agreed. For this session, we have until 12.20. Will the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

Sir Ken Knight:

I am Sir Ken Knight. I currently chair the independent expert advisory panel at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which was formed immediately after Grenfell. My background—my DNA—is in fire. I was in the fire service for 40 years, after having been the chief fire officer in Dorset, then the west midlands, and then I was the London fire commissioner before becoming the Government’s chief fire and rescue adviser.

Dan Daly:

My résumé is somewhat shorter than Sir Ken’s. I am currently a serving assistant commissioner in the London Fire Service. For the last 12 months I have been seconded to the NFCC to head up the protection policy and reform unit, working alongside government colleagues on new legislation.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Wonderful. Our first question is from Mike Amesbury.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Q It is great to see both witnesses. If there was one thing that you would like to see in the Bill to improve building safety for people, what would it be?

Sir Ken Knight:

First of all, I think it is a very robust Bill. It will not be a quick-fix Bill, but nor should it be. It is a generational change. It would be wrong to suggest that there is an instant solution. The whole notion of putting a Building Safety Regulator in place and in charge of these matters will take time to work through. I am not sure there is a quick fix. I think the challenge will be in enhancing capability and competence throughout the sector, because that is still lacking in all areas, whether it is in enforcement or the built environment. I would like to return to that, if I may, at the end because there is something—probably outside the remit of this Bill Committee—that needs to be thought through. We need to educate fire engineers in competency and not leave it to chance, because there are very few at the moment to take on the new roles.

Dan Daly:

I welcome the Bill. It is an important step change in building safety legislation. If I were to look at one element, the scope is fairly narrow at the moment. I understand the need to build the role of the regulator and the extent of the Bill in a proportionate way, but as Dame Judith pointed out, it was a broken system that led us to where we are today. This is our opportunity to fix it once and for all. The history of fire safety legislation is littered with disasters that people have sought to fix, and the fix has applied to one particular area of the built environment. This is our opportunity to look at that scope and certainly build gateways into broadening the scope at an appropriate point to make sure it takes full account of the built environment and the issues that are definitely there in buildings other than high rise residential.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Q I have been struck by the approach of the Australian Government, particularly in the state of Victoria. Rather than just treating this as an issue to do with buildings, they have treated it as a public safety emergency issue. They have looked at the safety not only of people living in the buildings but of their neighbours, fire safety officers and people who might attend a fire. Do you have any reflections on whether this should be considered simply through a buildings lens or whether there is a broader public safety emergency issue here?

Dan Daly:

There is a lot to be admired in what other countries have done, and certainly in that particular example, but you have to remember that they were some way ahead of where we are and where we started from. There was already a single regulator in place in Victoria that was able to be instructed to take on some of this work. The number of buildings and the scale of the issue were much smaller than where we are. I think in total there were around 2,300 buildings, looking at a much broader spectrum of buildings—healthcare buildings and schools above two floors, and all other buildings above three floors. We know that, when we are looking in this country at buildings above 18 metres, we are already talking about 12,000 buildings—that is just high-rise residential. When we talk about buildings above 11 metres, we are probably closer to 100,000. If you take on the full range of where they were in Australia, the numbers just keep increasing exponentially.

There is something to admire in where they were—certainly the fact that sprinklers and alarm systems were in much wider use in those buildings, so that, in the fires that they saw, nobody died. There were measures in the buildings to tackle those instances early, and equally to alert people to the fires. It is certainly something that we have been talking about and pushing for: the wider use of sprinklers and alarm systems. It is good to see that there has been some change and movement in that, as part of the work that we have gone through so far. You cannot discount what has gone on. We should always look to learn, but there is something about scale and scope here that is different.

Sir Ken Knight:

Can I just add to that, Chair? I had the privilege to host both a political head and an official head from Victoria very early on after the tragedy at Grenfell. Remarkably or not, they were very complimentary about the work taking place in the building safety programme—as you will recall, the Victoria high-rise fires occurred several years before Grenfell itself. They were impressed, even though none of us is satisfied that the pace is enough on all of these things. Of course, they had the luxury that they had no fire deaths at all. It was a wake-up call for Victoria as well—to realise that they could not wait for the tragedy of the 72 fire deaths that we saw here to do things.

For all of us who have been in touch with other countries, there is lots to learn from them. However, it is also about the capacity: the numbers of buildings, and the significant number of high-rise buildings, that will be covered even in the first-stage proposal in scope in the Bill, compared with the total number in somewhere like Victoria.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

Good morning to you both. Will the reforms to the building control profession fix the problems identified by Dame Judith Hackitt? In particular, are the Government right to return the power of duty holders to choose their own building control bodyQ ?

Sir Ken Knight:

It is quite a significant part of Dame Judith’s report, of course, and that mixed economy has come through into the Bill. It is actually something that I support, providing that there is a level playing field in the competency, ethics and assurance of those doing the work. That is covered in the Bill, in a great deal of how the Building Safety Regulator will need to bring that to bear. The Bill makes the point, though, that in those buildings of higher risk the Building Safety Regulator is the enforcing authority for building control purposes—not either of those two bodies. I think that that is right. However, it is about levelling up the playing field for the competencies and assurances that are in place with some bodies and not others at the moment. There is a bit to go, but I personally do not object to that outcome, providing that the private sector actors involved in that are not directly employed by those for whom they are doing the work in seeking the outcome for the approvals.

Dan Daly:

I do not have much different to say. The inability to choose your own building control body is important, particularly for developers that have wrapped up a number of those services within their overarching companies. Having some independence of that is important. There needs to be some robust checking if there is private sector involvement; that is the important element, and hopefully that is part of the role that the Building Safety Regulator will be able to take on. I suppose that is something to come in the guidance that will follow this Bill. We have issues of competency and capacity across the sector, so we need to keep our mind open to all those avenues, but with the appropriate checks and balances in there and the appropriate safeguards to ensure there is no compromise on safety in favour of profit.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

Q It is good to see you both again. Is height the best measure of risk? If so, is the threshold in the Bill appropriate?

Sir Ken Knight:

I am sorry; I missed some of the early part of the question.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

It is my Scouse accent. Is height the best measure of risk? If so, is the threshold in the Bill appropriate?

Sir Ken Knight:

I promise you that it is my hearing. Height is pretty arbitrary in risk. I think any professional would say that; I am sure Mr Daly will comment from a national fire chief’s point of view. It is right that there is at least a point to start, and the threshold in the Bill of 18 metres or more than six floors is a place to start. I would not want to presume that that means that high-rise is necessarily high risk, because risk is a difficult equation with two axes—one is probability, and the other is the catastrophic outcome risk.

Dame Judith’s report, and indeed the Bill, are based on the idea that the more people who could be involved in a single fire, the greater the catastrophic risk. In reality, more deaths occur in the home in bungalows, but that is not about height; it is about the demographics of people living in bungalows and the effects of that. It was right to set the bar somewhere.

Helpfully, though, the Bill allows the Building Safety Regulator to look at that first flush of buildings in scope—that will result in something like 12,000 buildings, a significant capacity issue to deal with—and then to move on from that in a dynamic way to look at other risk features that are not necessarily height-related. One might want to include in the next stage care homes and hospitals that are not necessarily over 18 metres. However, as a first tranche, the place to start is right.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Mr Daly, would you like to reply to that?

Dan Daly:

The short answer from our perspective is no. We talked about broadening the scope, and that is a nod toward the fact that we recognise other premises as being high risk. Part of that risk is about not just the physical attributes of the building, but the people who live in, use and work in those places, particularly our most vulnerable people, and the reliance they may have, in terms of the evacuation strategies from those buildings, on the building’s performing in a way that allows time for horizontal evacuation or phased evacuation, supported by people who are there to enable them to escape from the building when they need to.

There are a number of factors that I do not think are yet covered here, and I would like to see the opportunity to broaden the scope at some appropriate point, but I understand the proportionate start in the way that Sir Ken has described.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Marie, did you have a supplementary question on this?

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Then I will bring in Brendan, who is just catching my eye.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw

Sir Ken, good morning. Given that, thankfully, the number of fires and deaths in buildings is low—although ideally it would be zero, of course—do you think the market has overreactedQ ?

Sir Ken Knight:

It is a very fair question. That is in the area of probability or likelihood of risk. Most of us do not run our lives in terms of anything other than likelihood, whether it is flying in an aeroplane or crossing a road. We do not tend to judge the catastrophic risk of those. There is a good deal of risk aversion at the moment, which is natural after the tragedy at Grenfell, but unfortunate, because, as you say, last year fire deaths in the home were at a 40-year low. If we think of the past year, where for the first time most people were in their homes and not in offices, that is quite a significant statistic.

Even in high-rise residential flats, most fires occur in the room and flat of origin and do not spread beyond the flat of origin, and most deaths do not occur outside the flat of origin either. That is not to make light of all the deaths that occur, of course. I think the question that you have asked is key for me in ensuring that we do not suggest there is no risk below 18 metres—going back to the previous height issue—nor is it all risk above 18 metres. It is a risk-based, proportionate approach, according to a competent risk assessor. What we have seen at the moment are both lenders and insurers moving that risk aversion to the point that people in their homes feel unsafe when they are not, are anxious about living where they are, and are finding the effect on the value of their flats very difficult. I think we have to bring the pendulum back to a proportionate approach, allowing competency and risk assessment, not a binary “is it safe or not safe?”

Dan Daly:

What I would add to that is the fact that there have been some well-intentioned actions over time in order to keep people safe and try to build some reassurance back into the built environment. People have seen Grenfell, and they have since listened to the evidence at the inquiry. Quite understandably, public confidence is undermined, but what we are now seeing is undoubtedly that some of the measures, whereby those costs are being passed back to leaseholders, are causing actual harm. The effort to protect people from potential harm is now generating real harm to people’s mental health and wellbeing, so there needs to be a reaction in order to try to bring that back to the centre. Fires are mercifully rare, but as a professional fire officer, I can say that one fire is too many and one fire death is too many, wherever it occurs. I understand the need to bring the pendulum back, as Ken has described.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Daisy has a supplementary question on this point.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Q I do, thank you, Mrs Miller. I am very much of the view that the Bill has taken a rather arbitrary approach by using height as well as the distinction between leaseholders and social tenants. Given the question around risk, do you agree that it would have been far better, and would still be far better, if the Government did a comprehensive audit of all buildings that are affected, then approach them on the basis of risk rather than height, the arbitrary ownership of the buildings, or the people who are living in them?

Dan Daly:

Let me go back slightly to your first question, which was about what happened in Australia. I said that they were ahead of where we are because they knew where their buildings were, and they knew a lot more information about them. Right from the start, that has been an issue that has plagued efforts to understand the risk, where buildings are, what they are made of, and what are the other construction elements of their external envelope. That has been a difficult starting point. There is some work under way that the NFCC and fire and rescue services up and down the country are supporting through the building risk review, which is looking at high-rise residential buildings and trying to understand in more detail the exact condition and circumstances of the buildings. Given the focus of what brought us here today, I think that is the right place to start to try to rebuild that confidence.

For the future, we need the golden thread of information that we are talking about in the safety case regime. We need to start to understand more about the built environment completely, not just high-rise residential buildings, so that should we find ourselves here again—hopefully, we never will—we are in a better place to look at where the risk is, prioritise those buildings and maybe take some direct action in the first place. Unfortunately, we were just not in that place to start with.

Dan Daly:

It depends on what the check is for the building and what the circumstances are. If you have the information, you can find what the appropriate intervention is. Realistically, when we talk about the numbers involved, where do you find the competency and capacity to do all buildings in an audit process? You have to find some risk-based approach.

Sir Ken Knight:

Perhaps I could just add to Mr Daly’s point. The capacity and competency are important, because some of these are not just building checks. They are invasive and involve taking parts of buildings down and looking inside walls. It would be a very long process to do a whole system check on all buildings, which is why I think it was inevitable to take an 18-metre approach and talk about those buildings as higher risk in terms that I have described, rather than pause and do a whole system check on all the buildings. We would still be doing that some time ahead. The NFCC, for which Dan Daly is responsible, has done a great job in using fire and rescue services to check whether buildings are at risk or at multiple risks. It has had some very helpful results, because they have all been found to be risky buildings.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Unless there are supplementary questions on that, I will bring in Siobhan Baillie.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

Mr Daly touched on this earlier. What role do you think the fire services need to play in ensuring that a future system is proportionate, in terms of both their own work and working with the Building Safety RegulatorQ ?

Dan Daly:

Combining where we are now with the Bill and the secondary legislation to come along, I think the fire service has a role to play in helping to design that, to make sure that it is fit for purpose and that it complements what is coming through in the Fire Safety Act 2021, which will come out later this year. From what we have seen, there has been a clarification. The Bill does not mean any new powers for the fire and rescue service, but there is something in the information strands; this Bill will bring about a better knowledge of buildings. That is really important to the work of fire and rescue services in terms of targeting their regulatory role, adapting and making sure that their operational tactics are fit for purpose, and making sure that where we can target through our prevention activities, we are looking at the people who live and work in those buildings to make sure that the right prevention advice is provided to prevent fires in the first place.

Sir Ken Knight:

I normally hesitate to comment on what fire and rescue services should do, having done it for 40 years and leaving it to professionals like Dan Daly and the NFCC, but I would just draw attention to the Fire Safety Act, which he referred to. The Fire Safety Act, of course, has recently passed through Parliament as an amendment. It does put, absolutely, enforcement authority with the fire and rescue authority, and that is the fire and rescue service. And it is much broader—this goes back to the height issue—because it is not just about height. It is about all those buildings where there are more than two occupancies, so it is a much broader piece of legislation, of which the enforcing authority is, effectively, the fire and rescue service. I think it will have a very close relationship both with local authorities and the Housing Act 2004 and with the Building Safety Regulator, because there is a wealth of knowledge in that background and experience and it is a key part of a modern fire and rescue service.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

I am going to bring in Ruth now, and I know that Mike and Marie have further questions that they want to ask.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

Thank you, Mrs Miller. I get the point that Sir Ken made about the need not to be too risk averse, but an estate of hundreds of students and leaseholders in my constituency was evacuated with a week’s notice. Also, Richmond House in south-west London burnt down in, I think, 11 minutes once the fire took hold, and it did not have what we think of as flammable cladding and was only four storeys high. I will ask both witnesses the question: to what extent does the Bill address that issue, or what else has to be done so that residents of all buildings, particularly those built in the last 15 or 20 years, can feel safe in their beds at night?Q

Dan Daly:

I think you are referring to Worcester Park.

Dan Daly:

There are a couple of things that I think are useful here. One is the competency issue. I think we have maintained right from the start that everyone involved in the build process, right the way through and from maintenance through to occupation, needs to be competent in the role. That is the first part: how these buildings are constructed in the first place and the appropriate measures—barriers, fire-stopping arrangements and so on—being put in place.

There is also the work around product regulation, which I think is really important. We have all seen the evidence at the Grenfell inquiry that products not fit for purpose have been openly sold, knowingly sold. That needs to stop, so that people can build in confidence with the materials they have. I think those two things come together quite well to look at the issues. But there is something, again, about the scope of the Bill. It is starting where it needs to start. I can understand that the new regulator would want to start proportionately and get that right. But I think it is hugely important that we open up the pathways to extending that remit, to look at other types of building.

We have the issue of modern methods of construction. That can be any kind of new aspect of building. I think Worcester Park has an element of timber-frame construction. We are seeing lots of modular construction. We have the highest modular constructed building in Europe here in London. Those kinds of elements need to be looked at to ensure that competency goes right the way through, from the off-site manufacture and the materials used, to the on-site installation. Those are things for the future; that is a good place for us to be. My concern at the moment is this: what are we doing about the existing stock? I think that is part of your question. There is the issue about how we can reach back on building defects. I think there is a slight flaw in that.

There is a welcome extension to the timeframes on this, but the slight flaw is that it is to the date when the building was complete. We have already seen buildings for which even the 15 years proposed now would have elapsed. If it has not elapsed there certainly is not time between it coming in and the point in which it elapses for the legal action to kick in and take place. There needs to be something about whether it is from when the defect has occurred. The defect, if not picked up during the building stage, would then be beyond the vision and scope of the fire service as a regulator. The fire service does not dismantle buildings to understand what was not done properly through the building control process and construction processes. We need to get stronger on that issue as well. Those are the elements we can do more on in terms of reaching back.

There is an issue as well with buildings and planning. Some buildings will already have attained planning permission under the broken system, and they will be allowed to be built going forward, adding to the pile of issues we are trying to address now. Where is the hard stop on those buildings? They need to be reapplied for to make sure the standards are fit for purpose today. That is another important element we would like to see change to make sure we do not add to where we are.

Sir Ken Knight:

Can I just add to that? I think that is why one of the important inherent, underpinning foundations of the Bill is that it enables legislation. It is such a large Bill and requires secondary legislation. I am sure there will be some who will sit here and suggest that it is not detailed enough. I do not hold that view; I think, by being enabling, it allows flexibility in the future for additions and to change some of those issues. It allows for the Building Safety Regulator to look at new methods of construction of buildings and make recommendations to the Secretary of State. That is probably where we came from. The Act it replaces is the Building Act 1984—some 37 years ago. That fixing in time of something that needs to be so dynamic according to risk and change enables this Bill to be that opportunity for the next generation.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

We have got just under 15 minutes, and there are three more questions to go through. Keep that in mind, if you could.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q Under clause 84, an accountable person

“must take all reasonable steps for… preventing a building safety risk materialising as regards the part of the building for they are responsible”.

The definition of the part for which they will be held responsible is to be defined in regulation. Should it not be defined within the Bill itself?

Sir Ken Knight:

That is one of those examples where getting this huge piece of legislation through the Parliamentary process, which will itself be 12 months away, will it not, will allow that regulation to come swiftly afterwards. I am pretty relaxed, personally, that regulation and secondary legislation will follow and build up the basis of this very quickly indeed with the experience that needs to be held. I am not the expert in that area, but I am very convinced that going down this enabling route is the way forward.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q You just mentioned it coming forward very quickly after the Bill goes through, but there is nothing to guarantee that.

Sir Ken Knight:

No, there is not, but I think the Building Safety Regulator is already on the case. He has issued a document only this week about what safety cases will look like. He and his team will be having the same capacity issues as everyone else, but nevertheless I suspect he is not waiting for the Bill to happen. Nor are the major people out there responsible for buildings in the future, which is pleasing. They are already looking at what they need to do now to make people feel safe in their homes, rather than waiting for the Bill to pass through Parliament.

Dan Daly:

I do not have much to add. The detail will come. I would like and welcome the opportunity for NFCC to be part of those discussions, as some other stakeholders are, to keep the promises that are made here. I do agree that there is an awful lot left to trust, and there needs to be some oversight to ensure that that trust is not betrayed and that, if the Bill is put through as an enabling piece, the guidance that follows is suitable to bridge the gaps in the information that is not there at the moment.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Q Will the new regime stop resident leaseholders being fleeced by the mediation costs—the EWS1 process, the astronomical insurance costs? The list goes on and on—not to mention waking watch, of course.

Sir Ken Knight:

I can deal with some of that shopping list, which you are right to highlight. EWS1 has been one of those areas. The external wall system 1 form is the surveyor form for evaluations. I would argue that it has been misused on premises where it has added cost to the leaseholder. I have seen real examples where people trying to sell a bungalow have been required to have EWS1 for an external wall, which frankly is nonsense. Again, that is about the proportionality of lenders and insurers recognising that some of those building heights and risks do not need that.

The other reason for me saying that about EWS1 in principle is that I believe it will quickly be overtaken by the external wall assessment of the Fire Safety Act 2021, because everyone will require that. One of the advantages is that you will have one risk assessment for the whole building and not every leaseholder having to have an EWS1 form to satisfy their lender when they want to sell, adding to the cost for each leaseholder in turn. Will the Bill address that? I think the combination of those other things I have just mentioned will certainly assist that, but it does mean needing to get back to an approach that is both risk-based and risk-assessed, and people being competent, and the culture has to change. It is going to have to change very quickly because Dame Judith recognised that both culture and competence were key issues. I think they still are.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Have you anything to add, Mr Daly?

Dan Daly:

Just briefly, I think we have maintained the position for some time that leaseholders should not bear the costs of historic building defects. We welcome the extension of the period to look back at where issues have been found in buildings, but I think there is definitely more that could be done to give them that protection. Overarchingly, what is needed to give reassurance across a much wider sector—this is about lenders, insurers and constructors right the way through—is getting a regime in place as quickly as we can that supports and holds them to account in the right way.

I welcome the idea of industry leading the way to improve its own culture, but I actually want to see a regulator with some real teeth that can hold them to account as well, because that is what is going to be required. The Health and Safety Executive brought some real change in the construction industry, but that was because its attempts to change the industry were also supported by strong and robust enforcement that it was able to bring to that. Holding people to account and getting the regime in place that underpins the whole sector is something that will help with where we are.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

Q I should have asked this question before, so I apologise. This is a pretty basic question, but we have gone straight into quite a lot of technical points. Since Grenfell there is understandably a lot of fear about high-rise buildings. How safe would you say a high-rise building is and what is the risk to life of a high-rise fire? I am interested in your expert opinions.

Dan Daly:

It is very difficult in the context of Grenfell because that is obviously where people’s minds are focused, but in my professional experience you are generally at no greater risk in a high-rise building than you are elsewhere, and the figures bear that out. We see a number of deaths. My experience is in London and if you think about London, we see the commonality of people dying in fires is not where they live, but the circumstances of them, the vulnerabilities and the care they may be subject to, or the lack of care in some instances. That is what drives those deaths.

None the less, it is recognised that people will feel nervous in those homes. There is more that we can do and this regime helps with that. The work of fire and rescue services goes beyond response; we do much more than that. It is also about prevention and protection. The protection element is about looking at the buildings, and the prevention is about the advice we can bring to people in their own homes, and it all contributes to reducing that fire risk.

There is something here that people will recognise, which is that there is limited capability for fighting fires at height. We know that and have experienced that. That in itself will not help with public confidence, but the stats of the matter—this is an emotional argument, so stats are not always the best place to find ourselves—do not support the view that you are at any higher risk. However, we must address the fact that people have and should have the right to feel safe in their own homes. We are spending time on that, and I said I think it is the right place to focus the regime for now to build that confidence, but we must have the ability to extend the scope and make people safe wherever they live.

Sir Ken Knight:

In the context of high-rise buildings, the differences are that it can be more dependent on the other measures in place to ensure that compartmentation is intact, such as fire doors, having self-closers fitted, ensuring that smoke ventilations are working—all of which, as we have heard in another place of inquiry, was woefully lacking. I think it is more dependent on that.

What is key is something Judith Hackitt picked up in this Bill: the residents’ voice as well as the residents’ responsibility. That is absolutely key to this as well. They need to be assured that they have the key information, but they also have to understand that they have a key responsibility to ensure that they and the others in the same building are safe as well. I think that combination makes high-rise different from a two-bedroom cottage somewhere, because it is more dependent on others and the compartmentation is more key. That is why I support starting at 18 metres in the Bill—starting at 18 metres for buildings in scope. That is the place to start, from our experience over the last few years.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

Q On that very point, I absolutely agree with Sir Ken. The six tower blocks beside the elevated section of the M4 in my constituency, Brentford Towers, were built roughly 50 years ago. In the 35 or so years I have been in and around Brentford as a councillor and an MP, I am aware of at least one fatal fire in a flat, which destroyed that flat, but the evidence that I saw afterwards showed that the fire did not spread, beyond some smoke damage in the hallway of the four flats on that floor—it did not spread elsewhere, because of the compartmentation and the way they were designed to deal with fire, in a way that was messed up with Grenfell.

In terms of new build, building professionals have told me that in this country we have moved from designing and building for fire safety, as Brentford Towers were built, towards concerns about thermal insulation and energy saving, so have started to lose the focus on fire, whereas in other countries the two have gone together. Do the witnesses agree with that? If so, do they feel that the Bill addresses that challenge?

Sir Ken Knight:

I have also heard it said—I have no evidence that it is correct—that the two sometimes seem to be movable objects in ensuring sufficient insulation, and indeed in making the homes and lives of residents much better and much less expensive because of heat loss and energy, and in meeting the very important net zero agendas as well. I think the Bill does address that. It makes it very clear that there are hard stops at each of those gateways that are put in place in the Bill, which the developer cannot pass until they have satisfied the Building Safety Regulator that they have met the fire safety requirements and the fire safety case. That has not ever been the case before. You could have a design and build that would move on and move on in process, and move beyond that gateway before being checked by the appropriate enforcing authority. I think the Bill has gone a long way towards addressing that very point—that fire and structural safety are not left as a second cousin.

Dan Daly:

Absolutely. There is the ongoing role of the approved documents that sit behind the building regulations. That is an important part of what will support the endeavour of the Bill. We need to keep working on those. They have fallen woefully out of date with modern methods of construction. That is something that needs to be reviewed with the Building Safety Regulator going forward, and challenged to make sure that the appropriate documents are kept up to the date.

There is something about the competency of individuals as well, in reading those approved documents in tandem. There are documents that talk about how a building is structurally sound and how it is fire-safety sound, before it starts to talk about the thermal performance of the building, but the two should be read in conjunction. What we have seen is people not necessarily with the right competence adopting convenient interpretations of those documents rather than following what the documents are trying to say. That again points back to the competency issue and the oversight by the regulator, and hopefully the oversight of the gateway processes, to prevent those things happening again.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

Q The Bill covers modern materials but says less about modern methods of construction. Some building faults over the years have been the interaction between different elements of the building, such as corroding metal parts or condensation and so on. Do you think the Bill goes far enough to address modern forms of construction, as well as modern materials?

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Just before you answer, I will point out that we have two minutes and then I will have to bring this to a close.

Dan Daly:

That points back to the competency issue. We have the products stuff that will hopefully be regulated and perform better—people will know that what they are getting will do the job it says on the tin—and then the individuals who are employed to make the determination about what products are used on a building in certain circumstances having the right competency to interpret the building regulations and the approved documents to make sure they are using the right things in the right places.

Sir Ken Knight:

The Bill, of course, includes the provision for a new construction products regulator, dealing with the products, which is really important in modern methods of construction. You are absolutely correct that modern methods of construction are important. Of course, modern methods of construction bring with them a precision in construction by pre-forming and pre-making, so modern methods have some advantage. We need to ensure that they have in-built fire safety elements when they are constructed and finished as buildings.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

I think that brings us to the end of questions for the first panel. I thank our witnesses for taking the time to be with us today, and for an incredibly useful set of answers. If I could ask you to exit through the doors, we will bring in our second panel of witnesses. Thank you very much.