Government sets up building products regulator

The construction products regulator will be a division of the Office for Product Safety & Standards within the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and have an initial £10m to get going.

The introduction of a new tier of bureaucracy has been deemed necessary because of the failure of the construction industry to regulate itself, as proven by the nationwide cladding scandal that was exposed by the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

Time and again products have been used in buildings, including high-rise residential buildings, that have supposedly been independently certified as fit for purpose, only for the whole system of certification to have been exposed as a sham.

The job of the new national construction products regulator is to make sure that structures are built only from safe materials.

The announcement follows recommendations in the Dame Judith Hackitt Review that industry and government must ensure that construction products are properly tested, certified, labelled and marketed. That review was commissioned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017.

The regulator for construction products will have the power to remove any product from the market that presents a significant safety risk and prosecute any companies who flout the rules on product safety, the government said.

The Ministry of Housing said: “This follows recent testimony to the Grenfell Inquiry that shone a light on the dishonest practice by some manufacturers of construction products, including deliberate attempts to game the system and rig the results of safety tests.”

The regulator will have strong enforcement powers, including the ability to conduct its own product-testing when investigating concerns, the ministry said.

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This move marks the next stage of the government’s post-Grenfell overhaul of regulatory systems. The progress on regulatory reform includes the publication of the draft Building Safety Bill in July 2020 and a new Building Safety Regulator that is already up and running in shadow form with the Health & Safety Executive.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “The Grenfell Inquiry has heard deeply disturbing allegations of malpractice by some construction product manufacturers and their employees, and of the weaknesses of the present product testing regime.

“We are establishing a national regulator to address these concerns and a review into testing to ensure our national approach is fit for purpose. We will continue to listen to the evidence emerging in the Inquiry, and await the judge’s ultimate recommendation – but it is already clear that action is required now and that is what we are doing.”

Business minister Paul Scully added: “We all remember the tragic scenes at Grenfell Tower, and the entirely justified anger which so many of us in London and throughout the UK continue to feel at the failings it exposed.

“This must never happen again, which is why we are launching a new national regulator for construction materials, informed by the expertise that already exists within the Office for Product Safety and Standards.”

Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of the independent review of building regulations and fire safety, said: “This is another really important step in delivering the new regulatory system for building safety. The evidence of poor practice and lack of enforcement in the past has been laid bare. As the industry itself starts to address its shortcomings I see a real opportunity to make great progress in conjunction with the national regulator.”

The new regulator will operate within the Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS) which will be expanded and given an initial £10m in funding to establish the new function. It will work with the new Building Safety Regulator and local authority trading standards to ‘encourage and enforce’ compliance.

The government has also commissioned an independent review to examine weaknesses in previous testing  regimes for construction products, and to recommend how abuse of the testing system can be prevented. It has commissioned a report with recommendations for delivery later this year.

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