Delivering Affordable Homes & Fire Safety in Higher Risk Residential Buildings

Delivering Affordable Homes & Fire Safety in Higher Risk Residential Buildings

Having worked closely with the affordable housing sector for over two decades, we know that Higher Risk Residential Buildings (HRRBs) are vital to clients as they strive to tackle the housing crisis. Often, they are the only viable option for unlocking sites and providing the volumes of housing units required to meet increasing demand, especially in urban areas where space is at a premium. As such, the industry is going to need to continue developing and constructing HRRBs to meet the challenges posed by the housing shortage, the increasing demand for affordable housing, and the need to replace overcrowded or unsuitable homes with new homes that meet high quality standards.

Martin Arnold has spent the last few years assisting our clients in meeting these challenges, taking into consideration the Hackett review and the uncertainty regarding which of its recommendations will be applied to Building Regulations in the future.

As such, we have identified three distinct phases that our clients need to be mindful of when planning how to successfully deliver affordable housing through the development of an HRRB:
The first phase is now or, as we have termed it, “the transition phase.”
The second phase is soon or, as we call it, “the impact phase.”
And the final phase is the longer-term future, “the management phase.”
The transition phase has seen Clients relying less-and-less on manufacturers self-certifying that their products are fit for purpose or contractors self-certifying that a building is fully compliant. Instead, clients are increasingly appointing third party experts to inspect works in progress, provide quality control and quality assurance, and ensure that effective Fire Safety measures are in place. These inspections can include EWS1 inspections & reports, fire stopping inspections, fire door inspections, and fire risk assessments to name but a few.

The challenge of integrating an additional inspection regime into the live construction process can, if not co-ordinated effectively, raise issues for clients. Firstly, there is the question of the time and resources needed to manage inspections. Secondly, there is the potential for disputes from contractors who are convinced that the work they have done is fully compliant and argue against a consultant that suggests otherwise. Clients are then left with the difficulty of having to assess a hierarchy of validity, all in the face of potential contractual delays, potential retrospective works and variations, and possible claims.

The most successful clients are engaging early and appointing third party consultants as soon as possible. Clients are appointing directly, integrating consultants into the design team where possible, and into the delivery team where construction has already begun. They also recognise that a genuine and positive Team Integration is vital in ensuring that their developments are delivered to the required quality standards and minimum financial impact.

The sharing of information is therefore central to a successful project. It is also in keeping with the Hackett Review’s assertion that “There needs to be a golden thread for all complex and high-risk building projects so that the original design intent is preserved and recorded, and… any changes go through a formal review process involving people who are competent and who understand the key features of the design.”

Shared information, aligned goals, and drawing upon expertise ensures that contractors, clients, consultants, and the supply chain all share a common vision of the design and processes that they are following. This, in turn, leads to less conflict, less uncertainty, more collaboration and faster problem solving. Not only does this minimise delays and/or the need for snagging, defect management and retrospective works, but it also ensures that the building itself is safer for residents to occupy and easier and more cost efficient for the client to maintain.

Many contractors are comfortable with this approach and recognise the added value that expert advice can provide in the design and delivery stage. Where consultants are integrated into the design and project teams at as early as a stage as possible, it allows contractors to incorporate milestone inspections into their programme and build contingency into the critical path. Such a collaborative approach minimises the likelihood of contractual disputes, particularly over programme delays or quality issues.

Our advice, therefore, is simple: engage all parties early, be transparent, align goals, share knowledge, and do not sacrifice on quality.

The Impact Phase is likely to cause further challenges, and we will be discussing these in our next newsletter.