On 14 June 2017, a shocked world watched a tragedy unfold in the west of London. When the smoke cleared from the fire at the Grenfell Tower, 71 people were found to have perished. Whilst the specific causes of the fire are still being investigated, there is no doubt that the recent installation of polyethylene-core façade cladding was a major contributor to its reduced survivability; in turn, the ability of that cladding to be installed is being seen as a significant failure of the regulatory system for the protection of building occupants.
On 8 May 2018, Matthew Bell presented a paper to the Society of Construction Law in London. The paper was awarded the Hudson Prize for 2017, the construction law essay prize awarded by the Society. The title of the paper – ‘“How is that even possible?” Raising construction regulation from the ashes of Grenfell Tower’ reflects both the visceral reaction of the community that such a fire could happen in London in 2017, and the concerted efforts which are being made to reform the regulatory system so as to make it fit for the purpose of keeping residents safe.
Matthew’s paper – which is available via www.scl.org.uk – explores the challenge for construction law regulation identified in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, and similar residential building fires around the world. At its heart, the challenge is to devise effective legal means by which dwellings can be built, and maintained, so that they remain safe for their residents. Achievement of this ambition may appear straightforward; however, the complex interplay of commercial, technical and legal pressures involved in modern urban developments means that the regulatory regime needs to be carefully calibrated.
The paper examines the approach taken to re-thinking the regulatory system for residential building by reviews which have been instigated as a result of these fires, in the UK and Australia. Prominent amongst these reviews is that of Dame Judith Hackitt in the UK, which published its Interim Report in December 2017. This Report shows a clear intention towards an holistic reassessment of measures and philosophies which underpin the current regulatory regime, including performance-based specification. As the paper notes, a similar willingness to reassess regulatory strategies has been shown in Australia, with significant reforms recently enacted or in prospect.
Matthew is a Senior Lecturer and Co-Director of Studies for Construction Law at Melbourne Law School. He is also Chair of the Academic Subcommittee of the Society of Construction Law Australia. His paper was delivered to a full house at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall.
Follow SCL Australia on Twitter: @SCLAust
Follow Matthew Bell on Twitter: @MelbConstrucLaw
This podcast is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice about your specific circumstances. The views expressed in these podcasts are the speakers' own. They should not be taken as recommendations of the Society of Construction Law Australia.