Industry stakeholders are still coming to terms with what the Grenfell disaster means for them.
The Hackitt review offers so many recommendations to shake up the sector that it can be challenging to know where to start. But, in the context of commercial property, enhancing transparency and communication with business tenants should be right at the top of the priority list for landlords and property managers.
Dame Judith Hackitt called for a “radical rethink of the whole system and how it works”, claiming the industry “has not reflected and learned for itself, nor looked to other sectors”.
Amid the myopic media focus on the need for a ban on combustible cladding, it might be easy to miss arguably the report’s most important recommendation. Hackitt called for a “national culture of engagement” to help restore trust between tenants and landlords and property managers. Two-way communication has always been a vital component of this relationship. But when safety issues are concerned, the stakes are raised significantly.
Tenants should be able to communicate any concerns they have about property safety via a variety of channels and receive a prompt response. In practice, this means offering a helpline and a digital platform or email address for receiving queries, alongside a correspondence address to send important documents to.
Hackitt’s “golden thread” of building information also called for vital data, including fire risk assessment and maintenance information, to be available to everyone. Digital platforms are particularly useful for landlords or managers to provide safety and golden-thread information. Along with email, this provides a useful audit trail in the event of any legal disputes. However, there must be other options. Face-to-face meetings are another important requirement, especially for serious issues.
If business tenants’ concerns persist after raising an issue, there should be a clear escalation process. The same comms channels can also be used by landlords and managers to communicate key issues to tenants. Reassurance about the results of safety inspections will be most urgent for many.
There is certainly a major role for government to play in supporting this new culture of engagement by generating advice, guidance and support for the industry. But stakeholders that get an early start will find themselves in a prime position – not only to mitigate reputational, legal and financial risk but to stand out as an organisation that takes safety seriously. Cultural change takes time. It makes sense to start planning now.
Rosalind Benjamin is chief executive at Ark Workplace Risk