THE CONSTRUCTION Products Regulator (CPR) will be part of the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), while campaigners dismissed it as ‘too late’ and ‘not enough’.

THE CPR was reported to have been set up to ‘police’ the construction industry and take over product safety tests from the Building Research Establishment (BRE), and have the ‘power to prosecute those who try to cheat housing safety laws’. It will employ a team of ‘safety enforcers’ who will track dangerous materials and put ‘rogue bosses who profit from them in the dock’, with the potential for company executives to face jail.

The move was said to have been made after ‘public outrage’ at the evidence heard at the Grenfell inquiry throughout the latter part of 2020, in which representatives from firms including insulation manufacturers Kingspan and Celotex revealed ‘scant regard for safety’ and the ability to ‘rig safety tests’. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick had been said to have believed that these scandals are ‘Britain’s version of the VW emissions affair’ involving Volkswagen in 2015.

He was also quoted as hoping that the CPR will ‘stop the construction industry making dangerous products and avoiding safety checks’, with all firms having to ‘pass a strict test enforced’ by the CPR, and those ‘who try to avoid it will be punished’. He was also set to announce an investigation into how the products used on Grenfell ‘got round safety checks’, with the CPR to have the power to ban sales of ‘any construction material it considers unsafe’.

It will also be able to bring criminal charges against executives ‘who defy the rules’, with all building products having to be approved by the CPR. It will also take over product safety tests from BRE, which was ‘lambasted by lawyers’ for the bereaved and survivors at Grenfell, who told the inquiry that the fire was the result of ‘an uncaring and under-regulated building industry’.

Those lawyers added that BRE was ‘manipulated’ by ‘ruthless and criminal manufacturers’, and that the ‘testing and certification bodies provided no such protection but reinforced the dangerous and dishonest culture within the industry. They were far too close to those whom they were supposed to be overseeing and far too willing to accept their misleading claims’.

In a press release, the government gave more details on the CPR, stating that it has been ‘established to ensure construction materials are safe’, with residents to ‘be protected’ by the regulator’s power to ‘remove ay product from the market that presents a significant safety risk’ and to ‘prosecute any companies who flout the rules on product safety’. It specifically cited the Grenfell inquiry’s recent hearings, which ‘shone a light on the dishonest practice[s]’ by manufacturers.

These specifically included ‘deliberate attempts to game the system and rig the results of safety tests’, and the government said that the CPR ‘will have strong enforcement powers including the ability to conduct its own product-testing when investigating concerns’. Businesses should ‘ensure that their products are safe before being sold’ as well as test them ‘against safety standards’, with the government calling the CPR the ‘next major chapter’ in its ‘fundamental overhaul’ of regulation.

It will operate within the OPSS, which will be expanded and given up to £10m in funding ‘to establish the new function’, with the CPR to work with the new building safety regulator and Trading Standards ‘to encourage and enforce compliance’. The government also commissioned an independent review to ‘examine weaknesses’ in previous testing regimes for construction products, and ‘to recommend how abuse of the testing system can be prevented’.

It will be led by a panel of experts with regulatory, technical and construction industry experience and will report later this year with recommendations.

Mr Jenrick commented: ‘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. We are establishing a national regulator to address these concerns and a review into testing to ensure our national approach is fit for purpose.

‘We will continue to listen to the evidence emerging in the Inquiry, and await the judge’s ultimate recommendation - but it is already clear that action is required now and that is what we are doing.’

Business Minister and Minister for London Paul Scully added: ‘We all remember the tragic scenes at Grenfell Tower, and the entirely justified anger which so many of us in London and throughout the UK continue to feel at the failings it exposed. This must never happen again, which is why we are launching a new national regulator for construction materials, informed by the expertise that already exists within the Office for Product Safety and Standards.’

Dame Judith Hackitt stated: ‘This is another really important step in delivering the new regulatory system for building safety. The evidence of poor practice and lack of enforcement in the past has been laid bare. As the industry itself starts to address its shortcomings I see a real opportunity to make great progress in conjunction with the national regulator.’

The Guardian reported that UK Cladding Action Group campaigners viewed the CPR as ‘too late’, with co founder Rituparna Saha commenting that ‘it’s good news for buildings to be built in the future but this regulator does literally nothing for the buildings that already have these materials on them’. Grenfell United meanwhile said: ‘A new regulator doesn’t fix what is out there already. It’s been three and a half years and the government still hasn’t come up with a plan to get dangerous materials off homes.

‘Kingspan, Celotex and Arconic have faced no consequences – they are still making profits … Consequences for companies involved in Grenfell would be the best way for the government to send a message it was serious about cracking down. This is not an industry that deserves a clean slate.’

BBC News reported that Giles Grover of End Our Cladding Scandal said it was ‘not enough’, adding: ‘It will help people in new homes but it doesn't help those of us with Kingspan K15 insulation wrapped around our flats. The only way that the government's going to make sure our buildings are safe is to put up the money now.’

Surveyor and building safety expert Arnold Tarling stated meanwhile that checks should ‘in theory have been carried out’ by Trading Standards inspectors ‘but they rarely visited building sites’, and he questioned whether £10m would ‘be enough’ to fund the checks of ‘millions’ of building products.