Iain Bray, commercial director, Kier Specialist Services.

"I’ve been encouraged by a greater sense of collaboration and partnership across the social housing and maintenance sectors post-Grenfell and in response to the Hackitt Review. However, with a constant spotlight shining on fire safety and in light of yet another high-profile fire involving cladding, this time in student accommodation in Bolton, we need to look again at how we work together to make sure residents are safe in their homes.

Responsibility is very much with landlords to inspect their buildings and replace the cladding. The volume of work required and the ambiguity of understanding what is the right material to use can cause some issues for landlords. Kier is leading the way helping clients navigate this process by adopting a highly collaborative approach. By, bringing together a wide breadth of expertise, we are able to deliver exemplary results with high levels of satisfaction from residents.

A recent example of this collaborative approach involved the replacement of cladding on the nine-storey, Bolanachi Building in Bermondsey, South London for the Hyde Group.

Through close collaboration with Hyde Group and their consultant fire engineer, we were able to develop and implement a gridline system: an effective way to sequence the work so that panels could be removed and replaced in quick succession. This system allowed every screw, bracket, firebreak and cladding panel to be photographed and its exact position recorded, providing confidence in the installation and for any future maintenance required. This combined with sensitive liaison with residents and an open-door policy for the site office, so that residents could come to us with any questions or concerns, helped build trust in our work and confidence in the project. 

The spirit of the Hackitt recommendations were clear, we need to do much more to come together to make a real difference to the people that matter; the residents. I’m convinced that if, as an industry, we are able to create similar levels of trust with resident and clients to those seem at Bolanachi Building on a wider scale, we could see higher levels of confidence in fire safety measures used across the social housing industry.

One way we could demonstrate this would be to adopt a more integrated, collaborative process when it comes to procurement, especially when it comes to tendering for services relating to fire safety. Despite the best efforts of practitioners, too often, price is the determining factor in procurement exercises. This doesn’t lend itself to collaboration.

Many tenders include fire safety elements and I would like to see a shift of emphasis, so that different parties work together to help come up with the very best solution. I would like to see the widest range of interested parties involved in a preliminary stage - owners, resident management, social landlords, designers, contractors, cladding manufacturers, the fire brigade and of course residents. Only with this level of interaction and shared insight can we realistically hope to develop the very best quality solution and build the trust required to make the project a success. Early interaction could also provide an opportunity to openly discuss responsibility and liability, so that these are allocated fairly.

Of course, competition would remain as part of the process at a second, more formal stage and alongside this we could use open-book methodology, examining case study examples and predetermined levels of renumeration, to achieve value for money. 

Our sector is facing multiple challenges when it comes to fire safety. I know from the work we are doing with landlords on cladding and fire safety at a project level that, with concerted effort, it is possible to effectively and confidently deliver these projects if you are transparent and genuine in your approach. We’ve got a golden opportunity to demonstrate how good our sector can be here: let’s see greater collaboration across the entire social housing industry, so that we can hold our heads high and genuinely say that we are putting residents first."

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