The Government has announced that it will conduct an independent review into building regulations and fire safety after serious questions were raised about the potential role of flammable cladding in June’s Grenfell Tower tragedy.
A UK-wide testing scheme has already been rolled out to determine the safety of materials fitted to high-rise blocks of flats, but the latest move will also look at whether current building regulations and fire safety legislation are fit for purpose.
Just last week, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) called for fire safety guidance for landlords to change.
The Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, said that the Government was “determined” to “learn the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire”, as the tests found at least 82 high-rise blocks around the country did not meet fire safety standards.
However, the Labour Party and fire safety experts said that the review was “long overdue” and should have been carried out after cladding was implicated in the Lakanal House fire, which killed six people.
John Healey, the Shadow Housing Minister, insisted: “The long-awaited review of buildings regulations and fire safety is welcome but long overdue, as ministers promised this four years ago after the last fatal high-rise fires.
“The Government must also now expand the testing programme, publish results in full so that residents and landlords know whether or not their buildings are safe, and stand by their earlier promise to help fund the costs of any necessary work.”
Niall Rowan, the Chief Operations Officer for the Association for Specialist Fire Protection, said the announcement was “welcome but too late” to prevent the Grenfell Tower disaster.
“If the Lakanal House review had been taken into account, then the Grenfell Tower fire would have been a lot less severe,” he believed. “That’s why many in the fire sector are very angry, because this should not have happened – it’s welcome but it’s too late.”
Rowan said that the fire warranted a period of “reflection and introspection” from the Government as to why a review was not undertaken sooner.
However, Javid vowed that the Government is working to ensure “nothing like it can happen again”.
He continued: “Since the tragic Grenfell Tower disaster, the Government has been working to make sure people living in high-rise buildings are safe.
“It’s clear we need to urgently look at building regulations and fire safety. This independent review will ensure we can swiftly make any necessary improvements. Government is determined to make sure that we learn the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire, and to ensure nothing like it can happen again.”
The investigation is being led by Dame Judith Hackitt, and will report to Javid and the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd.
Dame Judith will aim to publish a final report by spring 2018 and an interim report before the end of the year, the announcement claimed.
The scope of the probe is to be set by this summer, after the terms of reference for the Grenfell Tower public inquiry are established.
Dame Judith reacted: “I am honoured to be asked by Government to lead this important independent review. This review will look at building regulations and fire safety to see what changes can be made for the future to make these more effective.
“I am keen to engage widely with industry and the public to inform the recommendations from the review. I want the recommendations to lead to any necessary improvements in the system being made.”
The Government also revealed that 82 towers had failed a new fire safety test that scrutinises the combination of cladding and insulation. It is the first raft of more comprehensive assessments following a series of tests that saw hundreds of cladding samples fail standards for flammability in recent months.
Nevertheless, Healey insisted that the Government’s testing programme was “too slow” and “too confused”, urging ministers to get a “grip of this post-Grenfell crisis”.
It comes as police investigating the fire concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the council’s tenant management organisation committed corporate manslaughter.
Officers will formally interview chiefs from both organisations as part of the criminal investigation into the fire that killed at least 80 people.
Meanwhile, a new survey shows that more than half of UK landlords have taken action on fire safety following the disaster.
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