William Eichler 18 July 2019

Whitehall ‘too slow’ in reforming fire safety rules after Grenfell

The Government has been ‘far too slow’ in reforming the building and fire safety regime in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, MPs have said.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has criticised the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire arguing that they are not doing enough to remove dangerous cladding from existing buildings.

The fire in the west London high-rise building, which took the lives of 72 people two years ago this month, spread rabidly because of the type of cladding used on the outside.

It is estimated that more than 200 high-rise buildings still have similar cladding – a fact which has prompted firefighters to warn of the risk of ‘sleepwalking into another catastrophic loss of life’.

In May, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government committed £200m – on top of £400m already available – to remove aluminium composite material cladding from what the Government says is around 170 privately owned high-rise buildings.

The communities secretary, James Brokenshire, also criticised private building owners at the time for not acting quickly enough.

‘While some building owners have been swift to act, and I thank them for doing the right thing, I am now calling time on the delay tactics of others,’ he said.

‘If these reckless building owners won’t act, the Government will.’

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report, however, warned that the £200m fund is insufficient.

It also criticised Whitehall for failing to provide funding for other forms of potentially dangerous cladding materials currently found on hundreds more existing residential and high-risk buildings.

‘We are two years on from the Grenfell Tower disaster and the Government is far behind where it should be in every aspect of its response,’ said the committee chair Clive Betts.

‘Further delay is simply not acceptable. The Government cannot morally justify funding the replacement of one form of dangerous cladding, but not others.

‘It should immediately extend its fund to cover the removal and replacement of any form of combustible cladding – as defined by the Government’s combustible cladding ban – from any high-rise or high-risk building.’

The HCLG committee also called for ‘greater urgency’ in establishing an effective regulatory system that ensures building safety in the long-term.

‘Much more progress should also have been made on developing a comprehensive building and fire safety framework,’ said Mr Betts.

‘This is simply not good enough,’ he continued.

‘It has been over two years since the fire at Grenfell Tower, and more than a year since the publication of the Final Report of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, and yet the Government has only just published a consultation into its proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system.

'The Government must pick up the pace of reform, before it is too late.’

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: ‘Public safety is paramount and within days of the Grenfell Tower fire a comprehensive Building Safety Programme was put in place to ensure residents of high-rise properties are always kept safe.

‘We have committed up to £600m to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM cladding on high-rise social and private residential buildings.

‘Ultimately building owners are responsible for the safety of their building and we expect them to carry out work quickly – anything less is unacceptable.’

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