MHCLG’s O’Connor calls for culture change on safety at CABE conference

Neil O’Connor CBE, director of Building Safety at Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, speaking at the CABE conference on 3 October

Neil O’Connor CBE, director of Building Safety at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has called on the construction sector to take action and implement change when it comes to building safety.

Speaking at the annual Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) conference and exhibition in Manchester, Neil commented that the Building Safety Programme that MHCLG is implementing will drive cultural change, but this has to come from industry too.

Commenting on the work needed following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, he claimed that: “Regulators need greater coordination, capacity and capability to deal with these matters and ensure building safety and fix these issues. This has to be addressed and is being addressed.”

He went on to say that the industry should be raising standards across the whole built environment, not just high rise and plugging gaps between different parts of legislation where loopholes allow misinterpretation and create ambiguity.

With reference to the work of the Building Safety Programme, he announced that “this is the time for action – the Building Safety Programme has managed to do a lot of work because of the support we have from industry experts, but we need your continued help, we need you to be part of the solution. Don’t wait for the new regime, think how you can help, support and force building owners to get their buildings into shape. You know what is right – all of you in this room, shout it from the roof tops. Residents need to be safe and feel safe – we owe it to the Grenfell community, we owe it to all residents.”

In his talk, Neil updated the audience on progress to date by including remediation which has seen the identification of 435 high rise buildings with unsafe ACM (aluminum composite cladding). As of the 31 August 2019, 111 buildings have been successfully remediated; 122 have work underway and 116 have plans or commitment in place but work is yet to start.

He reiterated that MHCLG has put aside £600 million fund for remediation – £400m for public sector and £200m for private sector, and this private funding will help unblock those projects where work is yet to be progressed, adding “money is available, there is no excuse for not getting on with this work.”

Summing up, Neil added that improvements won’t happen overnight – “it’s a process. With Grenfell, it was clear residents were not listened to. This needs to change.”