‘Quality in Construction Post-Grenfell’

Discussing how to address quality in construction after the events of Grenfell, a group of industry experts met in Birmingham to speak at UK Construction Week on the 10th of October.

Chaired by journalist and TV presenter Steph McGovern, the panel included Peter Caplehorn, deputy chief executive and policy director at the Construction Products Association (CPA); Geoff Wilkinson, managing director at Wilkinson Construction Consultants Limited; Anne Power, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics (LSE); Claire Curtis-Thomas, CEO at the British Board of Agreement (BBA); and a representative from The Fire Protection Association (Neil Cheyne / Howard Passey? – Jonathan wasn’t there, could put ‘a representative’).

Peter Caplehorn of the CPA said that while everyone in the industry was “appalled” after the event, up until the incident, the Government were arguing that building regulations were just red tape. “We are just about getting to the end of discovering how big the problem is,” Caplehorn continued. “Now, we need to move forward.”

According to Geoff Wilkinson, of Wilkinson Construction Consultants, the issue is that the industry “all need to work together,” which he says is why events such as UK Construction Week are “so important.” He continued: “This is not just about cladding, it’s about the way the industry operates.”

LSE professor Anne Power reported that when renovating the Grenfell Tower, many corners were cut in order to reduce the council’s bill, along with unqualified people being hired and elements of fire safety such as emergency landings left unchecked. She believes there needs to be onsite supervision for everything necessary to keep a building safe. According to Power, the industry has failed to treat multi-storey homes differently to the way we treat houses.

However, BBA CEO Claire Curtis- Thomas asked, “Where is the money going to come from?” She referred not only to buildings with flammable cladding, but the “thousands of buildings at risk” besides those.

“You all painted quite a bleak picture,” said Chair Steph McGovern, then asking, “where do we go from here?”

In response, Caplehorn said the industry has been in “free-fall” since Grenfell. He believes it’s “not right to say nothing’s happened;” things are in motion, though perhaps not as quickly as they should be. He listed a culture change among the industry and some kind of outside enforcement as elements that could help things move forward, perhaps shifting towards a rating system more akin to the food industry’s.

As McGovern noted, the outlook wasn’t bright, with Curtis-Thomas explaining that “We all want to do the right thing, but it comes down to money.” When an audience member asked if perhaps educating tenants on the consequences of these safety hazards they may act themselves, Power concluded: the people at Grenfell had been speaking out about the dangers of their building for years, but “nobody listened.”