Shaun Revill, trading director at SR Timber, says his team has long championed the use of quality, compliant roofing batten, while being vocal about its frustration at the lack of proper policing of UK standards. However, in a short space of time, two new bodies have been announced to police and drive-up standards in construction and housebuilding. Shaun asks whether this is going to bring about genuine change for the roofing sector.
In late January, the government announced the creation of a new regulator for building products as a response to the Hackitt Review, which was set up to investigate the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said at the time that: “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”.
Therefore, the new regulator – which will be a division of the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) and will work closely with the Building Safety Regulator and Trading Standards – will be able to prosecute any companies that flout the rules on product safety.
SR Timber welcomes the announcement with open arms after going through the years with other responsible manufacturers and suppliers of construction materials, calling for such an entity. The company has seen examples of poor-quality batten – or, in some cases, fake batten masquerading as legitimate, compliant material – making its way onto the roofs of new homes being built across the UK.
Until now, the system has relied on eagle-eyed building inspectors or calls to Trading Standards about clear and obvious cases of materials that are not compliant with the relevant standards. Such cases of whistleblowing have been few and far between.
Then, in early February, there was news of an independent body that was being set up to drive better quality and standards in the private housebuilding sector. The New Homes Quality Board (NHQB) will consult on and introduce a new industry code of practice for builders, as well as appoint the New Homes Ombudsman Service (NHOS), which will be there to support homeowners in disputes against the builders of their homes.
Pressure from both ends of construction
Effectively, the two new bodies will put pressure on both ends of the construction spectrum. You have one body responsible for the quality of materials used in the construction of new homes, and the other giving homeowners more recourse against the builders of new homes.
However, the questions remain: will it work, and will it bring about genuine change, particularly in respect of housebuilding?
Hoping for more meat on the bone
I’ll be honest and say that since the initial OPSS announcement, I was hoping that there would have been more meat on the bone in terms of information that we could get our teeth into.
But we know that the new division of the OPSS will:
- Have the power to remove any product that represents a significant safety risk from the market, as well as prosecute any companies that breach the product safety rules
- Have strong enforcement powers, including the ability to conduct its own product testing when investigating concerns
- Operate within the OPSS, which will be expanded and given up to £10 million in funding to establish the new function and work with the Building Safety Regulator and Trading Standards to encourage and enforce compliance.
Are we right to be impatient for change?
But maybe we’re impatient because, as far as we’re concerned, change can’t come soon enough – and it’s not just because we’re passionate in our belief that the British Standards (in our case, we work to BS 5534:2014 + A2:2018) are there to set the benchmark for quality materials.
After all, we’ve built a business doing things the right way and going from the new kids on the block to a leading importer of specialised timber products and the UK’s largest importer of roofing batten, including our flagship Premium Gold.
It also sticks in the craw to know that corners are being cut with the deliberate use of poor-quality materials, which at best, is short-changing people who put everything they have into buying a home. And at worst, well, let’s just say we sincerely hope lessons have been learnt so that there’s never another Grenfell.
The real measure of change
I suppose the real acid test will be when products start being withdrawn or suppliers face prosecution – because that sort of news spreads through our industry like wildfire.
But that might take a while to feed through the system, so, if I were the head honcho at the OPSS, the first thing I would do to bring about change would be to make it very visible how the industry can report poor-quality and non-compliant products. I would also make the process of reporting as quick and as simple as possible.