Following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire incident in 2017, the UK has seen a major review into its fire safety regulations for tall buildings. While this is of course, long overdue, it is the very least that can happen to keep people safe in their own homes.
As part of this, much research and development is taking place into alternative, fire-safe cladding solutions for high-rise buildings. This article explores the role that research and development, and R&D tax relief, plays in this much-needed overhaul of the construction industry.
The state of the issue
An investigation launched shortly after the incident found that the use of unsafe construction materials on Grenfell Tower was not a one-off. Thousands of buildings around the UK may be at risk due inappropriate and unsafe cladding and insulation. Much of this cladding is comprised of aluminium composite materials (ACM), which can be extremely flammable. However, there are also other types of dangerous claddings of different compositions.
Now that we know more, experts have identified several devastating factors that conspired to cause the tragedy at Grenfell Tower and pose the same risk to many other similar buildings. Perhaps the most devastating is that the fact that the risks of these construction materials were known to experts within the field. However, faced with pressures to deliver housing projects on a tight budget, these flaws were ignored.
Developers, ultimately responsible for sourcing materials, overlooked the fire safety angle in favour of durability and cost. Additionally, local authorities failed to thoroughly research health and safety implications before granting planning permissions.
While change is essential, it is a slow process. Suppliers, construction developers, and local authorities are now aware of the risks, and can make safe choices for the construction of new buildings. Ensuring existing buildings are safe is much trickier.
Today, three years after the fire at Grenfell Tower, over 300 high-rise buildings (over 18 metres tall) have yet to have ACM cladding removed. A further 1,700 still use alternative (but still potentially unsafe) forms of cladding. The picture is not much better when it comes to smaller buildings. Across the UK, there are an estimated 100,000 medium-rise buildings (defined as between 11 and 18 metres tall) across the UK and no work whatsoever has been done to establish the extent of dangerous cladding materials on the outside. Additionally, the government has ‘no data‘ on the number of buildings under 18 metres tall that may contain a dangerous form of cladding.
How can R&D tax relief help?
As you can see from the above findings, much research and development work is required to create safer solutions. This includes R&D work exploring alternative materials usage, and ways of making existing materials and processes much safer.
Since this work would constitute a major advancement of knowledge in the fields of construction, architecture, and engineering, it fits under HMRC’s definition of research and development.
According to HMRC, any project that overcomes uncertainty to advance technical knowledge in a field (and is not readily deducible by a competent professional) may be eligible for a reduction in the business’s corporation tax.
As well as improving the health and safety credentials of cladding and insulation materials, there are many other factors to consider. Cladding materials must be durable enough to survive all weather conditions, as well as lightweight enough and convenient to install. They also need to be affordable (although cost-effectiveness should not come at a premium over safety).
The research and development of new processes and materials always comes with inherent financial risk to the companies involved. Successful developments often take several design iterations and even failed attempts, often at significant cost to the company. HMRC’s R&D tax relief incentive rewards businesses for the creative risk-taking required for innovation by reimbursing to up to 33% of the costs of a project back in terms of design, studies in material performance, and value engineering. We urge all architects and engineers working on recladding high-rise projects to look into the possibility of using R&D tax relief.
Client case study: reverse engineering
Hamilton Blake Consulting provides R&D tax relief support for a prominent London-based engineering firm engaged in the research and development of new fire-safe construction materials.
Our client has been examining the cladding on existing tall buildings around London. Based on their findings, they have conducted the removal of unsafe cladding, replacing it with a new fire-safe alternative. They are also working on the development of new materials, as well as strategies for removing and replacing the product efficiently and cost-effectively.
This is a completely new field of work, the findings of which have massive implications for not only the industry but public health and safety.
As such, Hamilton Blake Consulting was able to prove to HMRC that our client is engaged in significantly innovative research and development. Our successful R&D tax relief claim granted the client a significant reduction on their annual corporation tax bill.