Interview with Peter Caplehorn around impacts of Grenfell, the IRG and the Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety

Based on questions composed by the CPA Technical Expert Panel we asked Peter about the work being completed so far, and what the picture looks like for the products sector and construction industry as a whole going forwards.

 The Grenfell Tower fire will rightly impact every facet of the construction industry and the CPA has been on the forefront of helping instigate that much required change. Leading the CPA contribution, Deputy Chief Executive and Policy Director Peter Caplehorn has been working with Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and various industry bodies to ensure that the products industry has a clear voice and can lend its considerable experience and knowledge.

Based on questions composed by the CPA Technical Expert Panel we asked Peter about the work being completed so far, and what the picture looks like for the products sector and construction industry as a whole going forwards.

Post Grenfell and with the implementation of the Dame Judith Hackitt enquiry, what are the primary initiatives that the CPA has engaged with so far?

The CPA’s work for the Industry Response Group is ongoing, and the Technical Expert Panel we set up consisting of our membership has been integral in responding to MHCLG’s questions and keeping topics high on the agenda.

We are also working with our committees (Industry Principals Council, Trade Association Council, Technical Committee etc.) to make sure the membership are aware of that continuous feed of information.  We see this as a developing conversation, clearly the implication for the industry will be considerable.

For the industry as a whole, we feel that we need to ensure that the appropriate outcomes are achieved, primarily in reform to make sure that in the future buildings are safe for their occupants and for others that use and service them.

CPA is working with a number of MHCLG groups and other organisations.  Who are they, and how is the CPA interacting with them?

The main government groups are first the Industry Response Group which is chaired by MHCLG and has as its prime members Build UK, Construction Industry Council (CIC), CPA, local government organisations and the fire service. Other groups come into the IRG from time to time as the conversation develops. For instance the Manufacturing Technology Centre at Coventry were recently asked to lead work on innovation.

CPA have been invited to contribute its expertise by the Independent Expert Advisory Panel chaired by Sir Ken Knight, and we continue to have dialogue with them. Work has also continued with the British Standards Institute (BSI) on the development of potential new standards surrounding fire related matters. We are also connected with work on the BRAC committee who are involved on a number of topics related to the clarification of regulations. 

Also, as instigated by the Dame Hackitt Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, the CPA have been invited to join the Golden Thread and Quality Assurance and Products working groups, and I am chair of the Regulations and Guidance group. We also have connectivity with other working groups, so we know some of the work that has gone on in the Competence, the Design, Construction and Refurbishment group and the Operations and Maintenance group primarily through our connections with CIC and BuildUK.

The working groups are due to report back to Dame Judith Hackitt next week. As to how things will develop after that is difficult to say as the review team have not shared with us how they plan to take this forward.

Based on current knowledge what are the likely opportunities / threats to the manufacturing community from the Hackitt Review going forward?

There is no doubt that the Hackitt Review and the subsequent response by government, which I believe will be positive and almost immediate, will result in great opportunities for the manufacturing community. The way I see it is that it can only help if our members’ products are identified and specified correctly, and the process of substitution or ‘value engineering’ is largely side-lined in the future.

Ensuring that good quality manufacturing and products are rewarded will only continue to support innovation, making sure that performance is central to all manufacturers’ business decisions.

The threats for the manufacturing community is very much about not grasping the opportunity that currently presents itself. The whole construction industry is under a cloud following Grenfell. It is crucial that manufacturing steps forward and recognises there is a need to get past the situations and relationships that led to potential failure. We need to make sure that going forward the issues we have seen are consigned to history.

Given the lessons already learned following the fallout from Grenfell, can the manufacturing sector expect any fundamental changes to the way in which their products and systems are marketed going forwards?

Yes, and in fact we could reference desk top analysis and fire engineered solutions. Certainly we can see a situation where there should be acknowledgement and some differential between technical performance data and marketing information. Marketing information has its position and that is only fair and right, but when we move on to technical claims and proof of technical performance, undoubtedly we must go in the direction of clarity and lack of any bias or ambiguity.

That is certainly going to mean a reappraisal of technical information. Fortunately, we are a long way down the road in terms of driving the industry towards unified information to make sure products can be clearly identified. Both the CPA’s work on LEXiCON and Digital Object Indicator projects fit in perfectly with this requirement. It is really important that there is a unified approach, definitions and information. And of course most of that will be subject to third party accreditation.

The concern here is to make sure we have absolute clarity when placing products into a project with outcomes that can be proven, and if there is any doubt over a product it can be resolved at the earliest opportunity.

This in turn will produce an improvement in efficiency and productivity across the industry.

Whilst is not possible to predetermine the likely outcome of the Hackitt enquiry, do you have a feel for the direction of travel that can be anticipated?

There is clearly an anticipation from Dame Hackitt that we will see a greater responsibility and accountability across all building projects. There are lessons that can be gained from the Construction Design and Management Regulations Dame Hackitt previously worked on and I expect we will see a similar format.

It is pretty certain that we will see a revision to regulations that ensure everybody using them are certain as to what they are meant to be achieving. There is also a pretty clear signal that the way regulations interface with other regulatory codes will become clearer.

I also expect to see greater participation of the fire service, and their recommendations being taken forward as opposed to so often being ignored. There is likely to be a reform to the building control system, at the moment we have a system that is both public and private participation which causes a lot of problems, certainly for high risk or complex buildings.

We are also likely to see a clear restructuring of the priorities, so that complex high-risk buildings would come under greater scrutiny and requirement than the other end of the spectrum for a small simple extension which is actually technically very straight forward. There of course is a range of buildings between those two extremes, and the regulations need to proportionately fit that spectrum.

One of the things that really needs to be thought about is how buildings of different complexities are impacted by our new thoughts about regulations. This could potentially be quite tricky, nobody wants to introduce artificial boundaries as we have seen with the 18 metre requirement. But there has also got to be a recognition that we have a set of regulations that are meant to cover a wide range of complexity.

This might be resolved by referring each regulation to a particular outcome, so there is a balance between how we would address complexity for any particular topic and any particular user group of building. But that is all work in progress at this stage.

The focus so far from MHCLG and the IRG has been on tall buildings and making them safe, but what about buildings below 18m?

This is largely to do with risk and priority. The current regulations clearly state that there is a difference for buildings over 18 metres, and therefore there has been a focus on those buildings because they might exhibit characteristics similar to Grenfell. Quite rightly, the whole focus of the programme so far has been to determine how many of these buildings exist.

This will be a rolling programme of work, industry and government will then look at other buildings until we are content that all the shortcomings we have seen from the Grenfell disaster have been addressed.

Then once that is done we also need to make sure that the buildings in production that are not yet complete are also addressed and are going to be safe once they are fully complete.

Can we expect greater clarity in relation to the range of cladding systems that will be deemed appropriate going forward?

There are a range of cladding systems that are on the market and they range from very expensive top line curtain walling systems that are used on some of the most expensive buildings in the world through to the least expensive most economic solutions that you could imagine.

For most of the top end products and solutions, there is a demand for absolute clarity and certainty and that comes with the price attached to them. For the medium range and the more economic systems, this is a much more challenging question. The outcome of the Hackitt Review will undoubtedly put a greater focus and responsibility on ensuring clarity across the whole sector.

Is there an expectation that the existing Regulation 38 will be more effectively enforced?

Regulation 38 and indeed Regulation 40 is a good idea and many have struggled with attempting to get this properly carried out for as long as it has been introduced. Whether we go forward with the same concept as Regulation 38 remains to be seen. Undoubtedly as a short-term measure it needs to be heavily enforced and adhered to on every project.

However, when we look at the quality of information that Regulation 38 actually drives, one of the other key considerations under the Hackitt Review has been the use of digital technologies. If we look at a situation where all the information has been properly produced and that available in a digital format, Regulation 38 becomes much more seamless and much more straight-forward.

Going forward, how crucial will the CPA role be in developing and implementing any recommendations that come from the Hackitt Review? 

The CPA are able to play a significant role in the implementation of post-Hackitt recommendations through the use of our members whose expertise have played an active part. We have been very pleased to be part of the IRG and I think a natural development would be to use it as an implementation group to roll out the Dame Hackitt Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety recommendations when published.

How does the CPA articulate such varied membership opinion when working with the various government agencies?

CPA must be representative of the total membership and we recognise that for some areas of work there will be opposing views. We take account of all the issues that have been expressed and where there is the opportunity we try to make government aware of the breadth and depth of those hews.

We have to also take account of the fact that government wants either a simplified view or a cohesive view. If we were to express a wide approach, many in government would either stop listening or not take account of what we are trying to express.

We will always take the strategic view and reflect our overall strategy when talking at this level. It is important to realise that you are looking at a longer term gain over short term impressions.

How can CPA membership support future CPA initiatives going forward?

The Grenfell Tower tragedy will be etched in our industry’s conscious forever and we must look at what we can do so this never happens again.

The CPA’s membership represents over 85% of our industry by value and in the wake of such tragedies we must come together, the CPA are always keen to understand views from across the membership and the input we have received so far has been immensely helpful. Going forward we would invite our members to continue to feed into the Technical Expert Panel or contact us directly at

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