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"Polluter Pays" is the right approach from Government on building safety - now we must ensure it is fully delivered

Darryl Matthews, Managing Director | ROCKWOOL UK

3 min read Partner content

Since becoming Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, Michael Gove has proved himself as a driving force in politics and as a reformer – and nowhere is this more evident than in building and fire safety.

In seeking to tackle a complex problem, Gove has been unafraid to call out the companies that are implicated in the Grenfell Tower tragedy and is making strong efforts to help leaseholders in mid-rise buildings who are stuck in their properties because of the combustible materials legacy.

The Government has rightly taken a proactive approach by banning combustible materials on residential buildings above 18 metres, and consulting on whether to extend that ban to a series of structures over 11 metres. We encourage Gove to accelerate this regulatory reform while grappling with the complex remediation challenge.

A key part of his political approach has been the principle of ‘polluter pays’; that is, that those responsible for the crisis should be held accountable and pay for the means to fix it. Already, Gove has secured commitment to a Building Safety Pledge from 40 developers, which have committed funds to financing the remediation of mid-rise buildings they have developed over the past 30 years that are clad with combustible materials.

This principle is both a pragmatic solution which helps top up existing Government funding for the remediation of buildings with unsafe materials and a natural evolution of the Government’s approach since 2017.

That is why the recent shift in focus towards manufacturers is absolutely welcome. The evidence presented at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is just a small reminder of the cultural challenges in the sector – including manufacturers knowingly manipulating fire test results on their combustible materials and falsely marketing materials which should never have been approved for use on high rise buildings.

To address that and many other historical regulatory and building practice deficiencies, the Government designed the Building Safety Act. The landmark legislation intends to improve the oversight of buildings through the lifecycle of construction and beyond.

If the “polluter pays” principle is implemented effectively, then together with regulatory and regime changes, it is possible to achieve the culture change in Britain

As part of the new Building Safety Act, which gained Royal Assent in April, there is a critical mechanism through which Government can pursue capital from such manufacturers with a new levy. The legislation gives the power to compel:

“construction products manufacturers, their authorised representatives, importers and distributors to contribute towards the cost of remediation works where construction products they have supplied have caused or contributed to dwellings being unfit for habitation”.

This shows Government has the right north star: to pursue those that have contributed to, worsened, or caused the problems we now face. Government, the Building Safety Regulator and dutyholders must now swiftly implement the Act’s measures and uphold these guiding principles from the outset. A robust approach to construction products and creating fire-safe buildings for current and future generations relies on it. Too many people have lived for too long already in buildings in which they don’t feel safe.

The natural consequence of this is that reliable operators will be incentivised for operating in the UK market and be able to flourish. And those responsible for wrongdoing will be held to account and required to contribute to righting their mistakes. If the “polluter pays” principle is implemented effectively, then together with regulatory and regime changes, it is possible to achieve the culture change in Britain that Dame Judith Hackitt demanded in her report after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

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