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22
May

Secretary of State - Grenfell Tower cladding was “unlawful”


The final report by Dame Judith Hackitt into the Grenfell Tower disaster has been published and calls for a radical overhaul to the fire safety system, which would represent “integrated systemic change” underpinned by legislation. Furthermore, this must apply to existing high-rise residential buildings, not just new-builds. 

 

However, one year on from the fire in which 72 people died, the BBC’s Panorama programme (aired on May 21) has also reported on its own investigation into the failings that led to the disaster, with some shocking allegations.

 

Dame Hackitt’s interim report identified that “the current system of building regulations and fire safety is not fit for purpose and that a culture change is required to support the delivery of buildings that are safe, both now and in the future.”

 

The full report, ‘Building a Safer Future: Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’, proposes a new regulatory framework. The framework would be designed to create a simpler and more effective mechanism for driving building safety; provide stronger oversight of duty holders with incentives for the right behaviours and effective sanctions for poor performance; and reassert the role of residents.  

 

In making these necessary changes, the new framework will also enhance the current model of responsibility so that those who procure, design, create and maintain buildings are responsible for ensuring the buildings are safe for those who live and work in them. The regulator will hold duty holders to account and the government will set clear outcome-based requirements for the building safety standards that must be achieved. Residents will also actively participate in the ongoing safety of the building and their voice must be recognised by others. 

 

In a statement to Parliament (May 17), James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government welcomed the conclusions of the report. “We agree with the call for greater clarity and accountability over who is responsible for building safety during the construction, refurbishment and on-going management of high-rise homes,” he said.

 

“The Hackitt review has shown that in too many cases people who should be accountable for fire safety have failed in their duties. In future, the government will ensure that those responsible for a building must demonstrate they have taken decisive action to reduce building safety risks and will be held to account.

 

“We agree that the system should be overseen by a more effective regulatory framework, including stronger powers to inspect high-rise buildings and sanctions to tackle irresponsible behaviour.

 

“We agree that there should be no buck passing between different parts of the industry and that everyone needs to work together to change the system.

 

“And, crucially – given the concerns raised following the Grenfell tragedy - we agree that residents must be empowered with relevant information.”

 

The Secretary of State confirmed a commitment to bring forward legislation that he said would deliver “meaningful and lasting change.”

 

“Let me be clear, the cladding believed to be on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations. It should not have been used. I will ensure that there is no room for doubt over what materials can be used safely in cladding of high-rise residential buildings.

 

“Having listened carefully to concerns, the government will consult on banning the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings.”

 

He also confirmed the government is now consulting on restricting or banning the use of “desktop studies” to assess cladding systems. Desktop studies allow a manufacturer to hire a private consultant to provide an opinion on whether a proposed system would be safe in a fire. 

 

A consultation on the use of desktop studies closes on May 25 and James Brokenshire says he “will not hesitate to ban them” if the consultation does not demonstrate they can be used safely.

 

He also confirmed the government is working with industry to clarify Building Regulations fire safety guidance. He expects to publish this for consultation in July.

 

 

Panorama reports

 

However, last night’s Panorama programme reported that the failing that led to the Grenfell Tower disaster went further than the combustible cladding and exposed issues with the insulation and the overall design. In addition, it criticised the government for not taking swifter action over banning the use of unsuitable materials for high-rise buildings.

 

Panorama alleged that the insulation material used on Grenfell Tower had never passed the required safety test. It said the manufacturer (Celotex) had used extra fire retardant in the product that qualified for the safety certificate but it was a more flammable version that was sold for public use. 

 

The insulation material in question - RS5000 plastic foam insulation - is widely used on buildings throughout the UK.

 

The programme also revealed that the cladding panels and insulation had not been tested together before the fire. Yet the BS8414-2 test, it says, showed “RS5000 was safe to use on certain new build projects when it was combined with a specific fire-proof cladding panel.” 

 

The BBC accuses the manufacturer of persistent misleading marketing claims and adds that Celotex has not denied any of its allegations.*

 

 

Calls for measures to be wider than just housing

 

Whilst government comment has focused on high-rise buildings used for housing purposes, the implications of the Grenfell Tower fire are far wider, as our healthcare estates and facilities teams are well aware. Many hospitals have high-rise buildings within their estates portfolio and many also have cladding, and, obviously, insulation. 

 

In a statement made in response to Dame Hackitt’s report, ROCKWOOL, which manufactures A1 rated non-combustible stone wool insulation, says: “It’s extremely important that the scope extends beyond only high-rise residential buildings, but to include as well, all high-rise (above 18m) and high-risk buildings such as schools, hospitals, care facilities and other building types that might require longer evacuation times.”


In an article published in the May/June 2018 issue of HEFMA Pulse (‘Less bureaucracy, more safety’), Gilles Maria, Senior Vice President, Head of Insulation South West Europe and Insulation Asia for ROCKWOOL, criticised the use of desktop studies as well as flawed DCLG testing procedures. He called for greater clarity, including over terminology.**

 

The ROCKWOOL statement continues: “Regarding the risks fires pose, ROCKWOOL believes that the best way to ensure public safety in high-rise and high-risk buildings is to require that only non-combustible cladding and insulation be installed; that they be fitted with automatic fire sprinklers; and that all new buildings of these types have alternative escape routes.  

 

“These are straightforward, common-sense steps that can be promptly implemented and that would have a profoundly positive impact on public safety.”

 

* If you missed the Panorama report, click here to read more.

 

** Read the full feature here (p24 – 27).

 

To download Dame Hackitt’s full report, click here.

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