The Grenfell Tower fire that occurred on 14 June 2017 and its tragic consequences prompted major concern regarding the effectiveness and reliability of the construction products testing regime in the UK: the process of evaluating and assessing the performance, safety, and compliance of construction products to ensure they meet the required specifications and regulations.
To address these concerns, an independent review was commissioned by the UK government in April 2021 to evaluate the current testing regime and propose recommendations for improvement. The much-anticipated report – produced by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC) – was finally published on 20 April 2023.
‘Testing for a Safer Future: An Independent Review of the Construction Products Testing Regime’ represents a major step forward in mapping the complexity and opacity of the current construction product regime. Split into six parts, the report highlights the “historic failings in the system by which construction products were tested, assured, and made available for sale”.
Key gaps in the system
The 174-page report identifies six key gaps in the system:
- Coverage: Only construction products for which there is a designated standard are covered by the Construction Products Regulations (CPR) – while around two-thirds of products remain unregulated.
- Purpose: The regulation was mainly established to create a level playing field for a single market, not to ensure a safe or sustainable product or building. Consequently, there isn’t a specific UK system for testing the safety of construction products.
- Standardisation: Everything hinges on the development of relevant standards. The report highlighted that this process can be “slow, insufficient and of variable quality” – resulting in standards that are outdated, inconsistent or non-existent.
- Complexity: The complex CPR assessment process means few people properly understand it. This has created a worrying disconnect between those involved in the assessment process and those who design and construct buildings.
- Capacity: The entire system – standard setting, conformity assessment and oversight – is overloaded and slow. This poses a threat to quality and presents a barrier to reform.
- Enforcement: This has been found to be “almost totally non-existent”, encouraging bad actors to feel that they can bypass regulations without consequence.
The government’s former chief construction advisor Paul Morrell OBE and barrister Anneliese Day KC, who led the independent review, summarised their recommendations in light of the findings:
· Setting standards which, if met, will deliver assurance of desired and defined outcomes.
· Ensuring that the conformity assessment process is conducted independently.
· Requiring manufacturers to make a full, honest declaration of the performance of their products.
· Requiring declarations to be backed by the information that designers, contractors and building managers need.
· Establishing an organisational structure that engages government, the industry, and relevant actors in a shared endeavour.
· Creating and operating an effective surveillance and enforcement regime.
· Simplifying and clarifying both the system itself and the way it is communicated, so that compliance is not hindered by an actual or alleged lack of comprehension.
According to Dame Judith Hackitt, who wrote the foreword for the report: “The task now is to use the wealth of information mapped out here to create a new framework that drives the right behaviours, which enables effective enforcement by the regulators and delivers buildings where people can have confidence in their quality and safety.”