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UK – Grenfell Tower: Government Review Does Not Urge Cladding Ban

UK – Grenfell Tower: Government Review Does Not Urge Cladding Ban

Seventy-one people died in the fire in the west London tower block last June.

A review of building regulations set up after the Grenfell tragedy has called for a “radical rethink” of the safety system, but has stopped short of proposing a ban on flammable cladding.

In her government-commissioned report, Dame Judith Hackitt said a “genuine” culture change was needed in building.

Architects, building firms and Grenfell survivors had backed a ban on using combustible materials in construction.

Seventy-one people died in the fire in the west London tower block last June.

Following the fire, cladding on hundreds of buildings failed safety tests.

The independent review has been looking into regulations around the design, construction and management of buildings in relation to fire safety.

In her final report, Dame Judith – a senior engineer who used to chair the Health and Safety Executive – said her proposals would result in a new regulator to oversee the construction and management of buildings, starting with 2,000 to 3,000 “high risk” residential buildings with more than 10 stories.

The report strongly criticised the existing system, which Dame Judith said had resulted in a “prime motivation is to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible… A race to the bottom”.

She did not call for a ban on materials capable of burning from tall buildings, saying: “This is most definitely not a question of the specification of cladding systems.

“Simply adding more prescription, of making amendments to the current system, such as restricting or prohibiting certain practices, will not address the root causes.”

Dame Judith’s 156-page report concluded the regulations themselves and the guidance for meeting them were “ambiguous and unclear”.

She said: “Currently regulations and guidance are not always read by those who need to, and when they do the guidance is misunderstood and misinterpreted.”

She said the system for testing and certifying products was “disjointed, confusing, unhelpful and lacking any sort of transparency”.

Her key findings include:

  • Roles and responsibilities for building safety are unclear
  • Regulations and guidance were “ambiguous and inconsistent”
  • The process that drive compliance with the regulations are “weak and complex”
  • Competence (of people in the system) is “patchy”
  • Product testing and marketing is “opaque and insufficient”
  • Residents’ voices go unheard

Dame Judith’s appointment to lead the review had been met with some criticism due to her former role as director of the Energy Saving Trust. The organisation promotes insulation containing a foam known as polyisocyanurate (PIR), blamed for fuelling the fire at Grenfell.

But the government said Dame Judith was “an independent and authoritative voice”.

Her review is aimed at making sure similar events do not happen in the future. It is separate to the judge-led inquiry into the Grenfell fire, which will start taking evidence on 21 May.

Dame Judith’s interim report, published in December last year, found building regulations were leaving room for shortcuts.

She said she was “shocked” by some of the practices she had seen and a “cultural change” was needed. The fire “should not have happened in our country in the 21st century”, she added.

On Wednesday, the UK government announced a £400m operation to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations.

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