Planning and Housing

17.05.18

Grenfell: review into combustable cladding falls short, LGA warns

The independent review of building regulations, conducted following the Grenfell tragedy, has stopped short of proposing a ban on flammable cladding.

Dame Judith Hackitt, who led the review, said that “deep flaws” have been identified in the current system, far beyond the question of the specification of cladding systems.

Last year, 71 people died when a fire ripped through the Kensington tower block.

Following the fire, just eight out of 165 buildings over 18 metres tall passed a key safety cladding systems test.

Yesterday, the government committed £400m to allow councils to strip dangerous cladding from certain tower blocks.

Hackitt highlighted a number of key issues that had been identified as underpinning the system failure, including ignorance, with those who need to read regulations and guidance not always doing so, or misunderstanding it when they do.

Cost efficiencies were often prioritised over providing safe homes, with concerns raised by residents frequently ignored and the ambiguity of regulations was used to “game the system”, she said.

The lack of clarity over where responsibility lies was also exacerbated by a level of fragmentation within the industry, combined with a “inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools.”

Hackitt said: “The above issues have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ caused either through ignorance, indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice.

“There is insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe.”

The report recommends are “very clear model of ownership”, with clear responsibilities for the client, designer, contractor and owner to demonstrate the delivery and maintenance of safe buildings, which is overseen and held to account by a new Joint Competent Authority (JCA).

Hackitt recommended that the new regulatory framework be simpler, more effective, and “truly outcomes-based”, as well as transparency and an audit trail throughout the life cycle of a building from the planning stage to occupation and maintenance to provide reassurance and evidence that a building is safe.

The report also falls short on recommending a complete ban on the use of desktop studies, despite recent research revealing their “utter inadequacy.”

The LGA has criticised the decision to not recommend a ban on combustable materials and the use of desktop studies.

Lord Porter, chair of the LGA, said that the Grenfell tragedy exposed a broken system for ensuring buildings’ fire safety.

“Since the tragedy, the LGA has led calls for a review of building regulations and made the case for systemic change.

“It is good that Dame Judith’s report agrees that the current system is not fit for purpose and has set out a range of recommendations for its long-term reform,” he continued.

However, he stressed that the immediate priority should be to ensure that the events of Grenfell are never repeated.

“It is therefore disappointing that Dame Judith has stopped short of recommending a ban on combustible materials and the use of desktop studies, both essential measures to improve safety.”

Porter urged the government to act “without delay” to introduce a temporary ban on the use of combustable materials on complex and high-rise buildings until there is a regulatory system in place that is “fit for the 21st century.”

Commenting on desktop studies, he went on: “As the use and misuse of desktop studies has been at the heart of the problem, the LGA also remains clear that the use of desktop studies that attempt to approve safety compliance must also be banned.”

“People need to be able to sleep safely at night in their homes. The tragedy at Grenfell tower must never be allowed to happen again and councils are ready to play a leading role in making sure a new system of building regulation works,” Porter concluded.

Top image: Rick Findler PA Wire

 

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