Parliamentarians and industry leaders call for a focus on building quality
This week, cross-party MPs and peers joined CIOB at a parliamentary reception to discuss how to learn from the Grenfell tragedy and ensure a safe future.
In June 2017 the nation looked on in horror as the Grenfell Tower tragedy unfolded. The incident, happening only a few months after Edinburgh closed 17 schools due to poor building quality, forced the country to face the deadly reality that people were working and living in buildings that put their lives at risk.
Speaking at a packed reception in the House of Commons, Past President of the Chartered Institute of Building and chair of the CIOB’s Quality Commission Paul Nash FCIOB told the room that the construction industry heard the nation’s concerns.
“Quality, or rather the failure of quality, is arguably the most important issue facing the construction industry today. Buildings are not only key to our productivity as a nation, they also affect the quality of life for so many people and are the legacy that we leave behind for future generations. But when we get it wrong, the impact on people’s lives and livelihoods can be massive, and somewhere along the way we seem to have lost sight of that,” said Mr Nash.
Joining him in speaking at the event was CIOB member and MP for Walsall North Eddie Hughes and Shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods.
The shadow minister said she was ‘delighted’ that building quality had finally gone up the political agenda and commended the CIOB for bringing industry leaders and parliamentarians together to discuss this ‘very important’ topic.
“It may take some time before all the lessons of Grenfell are learned, but I don’t think we can wait a few years before we improve the safety of our buildings,” the shadow planning minister told the audience.
Since the fire of Grenfell Tower, official inquires have concluded that crucial changes to the construction industry must be made; leading that charge is the Chartered Institute of Building.
The trade body launched a Construction Quality Commission (CQC) in June 2017 to investigate the issues of quality in the sector and address what needs to be done to improve it. What the research found was an underlying cultural issue in the industry.
“Quality was being sacrificed to achieve targets, whether that be cost or time,” warned Paul Nash.
He continued: “What was needed was a complete change in the way that our industry approaches the delivery of quality on construction projects, from the top down and the bottom up.”
Having worked in the industry, Eddie Hughes MP reflected on how standards were different 30 years ago but now ‘health and safety’ were firmly embedded in the sector. He called for those present to support the CIOB’s work, adding: “I want to see that same cultural shift with regard to construction quality.”
Through the CQC’s findings initial recommendations identified a need for: competency-based training, education framework, quality code, and collaborative working.
The Past-President of CIOB announced the launch of a consultation on a Code of Quality Practice that will “set standards for the industry to achieve and provide practitioners with the tools and processes needed to deliver quality on construction projects.”
Alongside the Code the trade body will also be creating a competency-based quality certification which is intended to reintroduce to the industry the knowledge and expertise that has been lost with the decline of the Clerk of Works role.
Speaking to PoliticsHome, CIOB CEO Chris Blythe said: “I think the issues of quality are well documented. We need to change the balance between the home builders and the home buyers, so that the buyers have as much power in the equation as the builders. If you do that, I think the home builders will build better quality houses because the pressure will be on them to do so.”
“What we need now is parliamentarians to be asking questions of the government as to when they are going to bring in the legislation to do this because frankly it is way over due and there are hundreds of thousands of people who will be buying homes in the future and need this protection in place.”
Northern Ireland minister John Penrose who attended the event said: “The crucial role with which you get from good trade organisations like CIOB, is that they take theoretical regulations and tells you what it will mean in practice. Good trade associations can bring politicians back down to earth with a bump.”
Shadow culture secretary Kevin Brennan said that in his ‘vibrant young city’ of Cardiff “having very high-quality design and build is really important and CIOB plays a vital role in assuring the quality of our urban environment is at the highest possible standard.”
Also attending the event was Lord Young of Norwood Green, who warned that: “We absolutely need to think about quality and we are not giving it. Major house builders in my view are letting us down. We are getting endless complaints about new homes. We are getting poor quality and poor design as well. CIOB is perfectly placed to get out there and get behind a real drive for quality.”