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19.12.17

MPs accused of being ‘off-pace’ at every stage of response to Grenfell Tower

The current regulatory system responsible for ensuring fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings is “not fit for purpose,” an independent review has found.

The review, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, was commenced following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, in which 71 people were killed.

Yesterday saw the publication of its interim report, which revealed that the current regulations are so complex that they are open to confusion and misinterpretation when applied to high-rise and complex buildings.

As well as describing the clarity of roles and responsibilities as “poor,” the report found that compliance, enforcement and sanctions processes are “too weak,” and “do not provide adequate means of compliance assurance, deterrence or redress for non-compliance.”

In some instances, non-compliance can be missed because key work is encapsulated within the building before an inspection takes place: “The review has heard repeatedly that construction often begins before the full plans have been approved by building control.”

The final report, which is expected to be published in spring 2018, is likely to call for a higher degree of accountability for those who are responsible for high-rise and complex buildings, as well as a move to unambiguous, simplified guidance.

Communities secretary, Sajid Javid, called the interim report “an important milestone.”

He said: “It is my intention to update the House further regarding the publication of this report in an oral statement this afternoon.

“This Interim report provides a strong foundation for the next phase of the Review. We will continue work with Dame Judith and other partners over the coming months as she finalises her recommendations and I look forward to updating the House on Dame Judith’s final report in the spring.”

Lord Gary Porter, the Local Government Association’s (LGA’s) associate chairman, said that the report reinforces the organisation’s warnings about the complexity of the current system, which was “tragically exposed by the Grenfell Tower fire.”

He continued: “The government needs to endorse the report’s findings without delay and work with councils and the industry to take the process of reform forward in the way Dame Judith has set out.

“This will obviously need to include rewriting the documents relating to the installation of cladding and insulation on external walls of buildings so they are easier to understand and comply with.”

He warned that what happened at Grenfell Tower must “never be allowed to happen again and no-one should have to live in fear about their safety, be that in the buildings they live in, work in or visit.

“It is clear that all types of landlords also need urgent clarity about how they should be replacing materials on their high-rise blocks affected by fire safety test fails while we have raised wider concerns about the general safety of other clad buildings.”

He praised councils swift actions to take steps to improve the safety of high-rise buildings, but added that the government needs to meet the “unexpected exceptional costs” for councils as a result of conducting fire safety and major remedial work, and for any essential fire and safety measures needed.

John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, welcomed the report, although he claimed that ministers have already been warned that the fire safety regulations need to be rewritten.

He said: “It is now four and a half years since two coroners’ reports into previous high rise fires recommended an overhaul of building regulations.

“Ministers ignored the recommendations then and their promise to issue new regulations was never honoured.  

“Rather than waiting for the final report of this inquiry, ministers should start acting on existing recommendations immediately and incorporate recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt when her inquiry is completed.”

He concluded: “Ministers have been off the pace at every stage in response to the Grenfell Tower fire.

“They must now quickly give people confidence that our system of fire regulation has the clarity, accountability and proper standards needed so that no-one feels unsafe in their home.”

Top image: Rick Findler PA Wire 

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