It is not just covid that is hampering progress of critical remediation work, writes Andrew Mellor
The last few months have been unprecedented for everyone and the situation has brought, and will continue to bring, short- to medium-term negative impacts as well as longer-term benefits for our industry.
We all had to adapt to home working quickly and, thanks to modern IT hardware and software, many of us were able to quite successfully. However, a number of us quickly realised that internet access and working conditions at home were not what we required. Lots of colleagues have said that not only do they not have a private space to work or a desk and office chair, but also that the space they are using is too hot, too bright or too dark. They may well also be too cold in winter. And this will be echoed in many households where homes have not been designed for working for long hours day after day.
We are likely to see a desire for homes to be more cellular in part, to create private spaces for work and study as we expect to continue to spend more time at home – not just now but for future ways of living and working. We will see designers and developers responding with dwelling designs and potentially through the inclusion of local community co-working spaces in new developments to combat home-working isolation and encourage local collaboration.
Some households are now wanting to adapt, extend or refurbish their homes to respond to the need for more formal working space and more separated spaces. This brings immediate opportunities for smaller design practices. At the same time it provides the chance to respond to environmental concerns by including measures to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change and to install electric vehicle charging points.
Some have bought cars to enable safer travel to work but many are using cars much less, especially while working from home. This may mean less car ownership in time and less travel to work by car. The obvious benefit is fewer cars in the street scene and, hopefully, more landscape instead of driveways.
There is concern there are not enough experts to undertake the assessments
An immediate impact of the closure of manufacturing plants has been on the short-term supply of some construction materials which has slowed the progress of development and refurbishment projects of all scales.
Enforced social distancing on construction sites is impacting on delivery programmes because there are fewer workers on site. This has certainly affected the progression of façade safety projects which largely continued after a few weeks of lockdown.
Landlords’ reduced rental income due to payment holidays is hampering progress on development projects and fire safety remediation work. This issue, linked with a current shortage of skilled resource impacted further by the covid-19 situation, means that building remediation and safety checks are being delayed.
The Fire Safety Bill had its second reading in Parliament this week. If it is enacted it will require the facades and fire doors to flat entrances and communal areas of all multi-occupancy residential buildings to be checked as part of the periodic fire-risk assessment.
The Fire Brigades Union has stated that the funding will not provide enough inspectors to enforce the new act and there is concern that there are not enough experts to undertake the assessments.
Government has continued to move forward with new fire safety and building safety legislation even during the pandemic. Industry is however concerned given everything it is currently having to respond to. Finding resources, expertise and money to meet the requirements of new legislation is a concern to most developers and building owners.
One area of focus for MHCLG is Approved Document B and its relevance to today’s design and construction standards, contemporary building systems, social trends and residents’ needs. PRP has been awarded by MHCLG the first of a number of research projects that it is commissioning relating to ADB. The project relates to fire safety in care homes and specialist housing and we are looking forward to providing our sector expertise and engaging with industry to undertake this much-needed research.
Andrew Mellor is Building Design’s regs columnist. He leads the development consultancy team at PRP. The practice has been advising MHCLG and conducting research around policy and building regulations