Industry should embrace off-site construction methods as part of a ‘culture shift’ towards building safety, minister Stephen Greenhalgh has said Greenhalgh, who is minister for building safety, made the comments when he sat before the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee to answer questions on the draft building safety bill on Monday (19 October).
‘A cultural shift [in construction] needs a much more systematic approach beyond planning,’ he said. ‘We seem to have lost the systematic approach to build in recent decades. Go back to Victorians, they had their pattern books; go to Bath, there is a very systematic approach to construction.’
He added: ‘What we want to see is the same approach with modern methods of construction, whether its volumetric or non-volumetric construction being pioneered by particular volume builders.
‘But also [we want to see] design for manufacture and assembly. Essentially, it is a bit like Meccano – you know inherently there is very minimal risk, you know you are using the right materials, the right way and it's properly sequenced. That is part of the culture shift we need to see in the system.’
Greenhalgh’s comments come as six tower blocks constructed in 2006 using off-site construction were deemed too dangerous to live in – prompting 1,000 residents to be evacuated.
The building safety minister also denied that the draft Building Safety bill did not properly address cultural change in the industry.
Last month, Construction Products Association chief executive Peter Caplehorn told the HCLG Committee that ‘procurement and building contracts are not yet touched by the provisions in the bill’.
He said: ‘As we saw from Dame Judith [Hackitt]’s analysis, she identifies that those drive behaviour in the current industry; if we are to look at cultural change across the whole industry, they need to be taken account of.’
But Greenhalgh responded by saying: ‘[The bill] is creating a new regulatory regime for high-risk buildings and I think competence and culture change will follow that.
‘It might not be written in the face of the bill, but if you build buildings which have to go through this level of scrutiny and oversight, and you’re clear that someone is going to be held account – from a duty holder before construction to a safety manager after – then I think we will see change.’
The minister also said he would not demand a register of people qualified to be principal designers – a job that will be legally required on all high-risk buildings under the new system. Principal designers will be separate from the architect and take legal responsibility for ensuring designs are safe.
‘That’s a decision for the industry around whether there should be a register,’ Greenhalgh said. ‘It shouldn’t be a diktat from Whitehall.’
He added: ‘Registers help identify competence individuals, there is no doubt. If you talk to RICS [Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors], who have a register of architects, it is a great way to know someone isn’t a cowboy. I would hope that industry doesn’t take too long thinking about it as a sensible approach, but I don’t want to order them to do it.’
RICS has a directory of surveyors while a register of architects is maintained by the ARB.
There is not currently a date for the Building Safety Bill to be brought before Parliament.