Residents Voice heard?
It would be fair to say that TAROE Trust is supportive of the recommendations and proposed direction of travel outlined in the Hackitt Review Final Report.
A report that calls for ‘culture change’ in the relationship between tenants and landlords, the need for greater transparency, the rights of tenants to take their concerns to an independent statutory body, the need for wholesale change to make building standards stronger, and the need for greater support and funding for tenant organisations at a local and national level, must all be welcomed.
Of course, there is a risk that these positives are drowned out by the headline criticisms, i.e. failure to “ban” combustible materials in high rise buildings and also the failure to ban ‘desktop studies’. My initial reactions here would be:
my involvement with the Hackitt Review* highlighted that some of the technical matters surrounding building design and use of materials are incredibly complex. It is possible that some of the issues in this area are more nuanced than the black and white language of “banning”. However, given the importance of the need to rebuild trust and confidence amongst residents, I can see the benefit of an outright ban for sending a strong message out around the need for wholesale change, so it is disappointing that the review did not go this far;
the Government has been quick to respond in relation to the reviews to ban continued use of combustible materials and desktop studies, which will hopefully rectify the need for clarity; provided this delivers the required result the message is perhaps stronger coming direct from Government;
we wanted to see the immediate removal of potentially dangerous materials as a clear message to residents, and for this to be funded by Government; the announcements by Government the day before the release of the Hackitt Report by Government pre-empted this, at least in relation to social / affordable housing which is the focus of TAROE Trust’s work. This is welcomed, although the details will need to be worked through.
the report does not extend sufficiently into meeting the needs of disabled persons, though there are some aspects in Chapter 2 that could provide the basis for the further work that is needed in this area, and I understand that MHCLG are intending this to form the basis of further work in this area. Let us hope this work is forthcoming.
the work of the Residents’ Voice working group involved reaching out to additional resident groups, including those directly involved with Grenfell, Ledbury Action Group, and other tenants invited to submit concerns. This perhaps does not come out in the body of the report as strongly as it could have done. The work did not take place in a vacuum, and it sought to reach out residents throughout the work of the Review, within challenging timescales.
Our direct engagement with Tower Blocks UK have highlighted how the report does not adequately address specific issues relating to large panel system blocks. Matters pertaining to more technical issues such as this fell outside the direct scope of the work of the Residents’ Voice Working Group, but I can see how further work by either the Review team or Government in response in this area is likely to be welcomed by residents and would urge Government to give some further specific attention to this area when considering their response.
In summary, it may have been helpful if the recommendations of the Hackitt Review had been stronger on some of the headline matters. However, the overall force and direction of the report represents an extremely positive step forward. It sets out a framework which if implemented would represent a complete overhaul of building regulation and fire safety for high rise buildings, and extends to changes required more generally across the housing sector. This is particularly the case in relation to the culture change and specific actions required to empower residents and ensure their voices are heard. The gauntlet has been laid down before Government, the real challenge now is to make sure that the Hackitt Review does not become another report gathering dust in some deep, dark recess of Whitehall, and that the recommendations are implemented as a first step in the long journey that is required to improve resident safety.
Darren Hartley is CE of the Taroe Trust