Friday 30 June 2017

The Tories are trying Wriggle Out of Responsibility for Grenfell Tower Disaster - Don't Let Them

Speaking on 19 June 2017,five days after the Grenfell Tower blaze, the Chancellor Philip Hammond said; "My understanding is that the cladding in question, the flammable cladding which is banned in Europe and the United States, is also banned here..."

At prime minister’s questions in Parliament on Wednesday, Theresa May said her “understanding” was that the cladding that has failed the test “was non-compliant with the building regulations”.

She said as well as identifying who was responsible for the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower, the public inquiry would also need to look at “why it is that over decades, under different governments and under different councils, material has been put up on tower blocks that is non-compliant with the building regulations”.

Both of these statements from the most senior members of the Tory government are at best misleading, at worse completely untrue. I’m not saying they are lies, because that would require some evidence that Hammond and May knew what they were talking about, which I’m unsure of at this stage.

The statements are factually wrong though, according to experts in the field.

Barry Turner, director of technical policy at the Local Authority Building Control, told the Local Government Chronicle (subscription) that the document the prime minister referred to, Approved document B, was guidance, not a legally required regulation.

In addition he said Mrs May’s comments left out a crucial part of the guidance that allows use of a flammable cladding if it passes a “composite” test that includes other components surrounding the cladding, such as insulation.

Mr Turner said: “Within [the government’s] own guidance they’re very conveniently forgetting the paragraph that appears before the one they are quoting which allows an alternative method of testing a complete cladding system.”

Mr Turner said it was not surprising that cladding on all 137 tower blocks tested so far had failed as the Building Research Establishment (BRE) was carrying out a different test to the one specified in the guidance.

The tests being carried out for the government by the BRE are only testing cladding and do not take account of any other fire safety measures, such as flame retardant insulation.

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, has also said that it is “possible for buildings to be safe with that cladding in certain circumstances”.

Interviewed on BBC Newsnight on Wednesday he said: “All of this cladding has been fitted according to the rules that were in place at the time, according to the rules that were presided over by government.”

Lord Porter, Tory chairman of the Local Government Association, said fire safety tests on cladding from high-rise buildings were flawed.

He criticised the tests for focusing on the core of the panel - rather than the panel as a whole.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that "isn't the right thing to test", adding: "The government needs to listen to a wider set of opinions and not just the experts they have got."

So, the test they are doing on the Grenfell Tower cladding alone, doesn’t prove that the cladding was fitted against building regulations, it depends on the insulation used and other materials used that make up the whole construction.

But these regulations should have been tightened up, by the government, after an earlier fire at a residential tower block.

In 2009 a fire took hold in flats at Lakanal House in London which saw six people die. Following an inquest into the fire the coroner made a number of recommendations to the government and to other organisations like the London Fire Brigade and Southwark Council for how similar fires could be avoided in the future.

The recommendations made to the government in 2013 included:

‘Reviewing Document B (fire safety) of the Building Regulations to ensure that it is easily understandable and give guidance to those who are responsible for maintaining tower blocks, as well as building them.’

“Four years on and no review has been completed despite assurances from former housing minister Gavin Barwell, who is now Theresa May’s chief of staff,” reported the Telegraph.

The BBC reports that leaked letters from the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety Rescue Group to the government show that it repeatedly warned four different housing ministers that action needed to be taken on fire safety regulations.

“Surely however when you already have credible evidence in 2012 to justify updating a small but important part of the guidance in the Approved Document, which will lead to saving of lives, you don’t need to wait another three years in addition to the two already spent since the research findings were updated, in order to take action?

The government says the work is still ongoing.  

Today, the BBC and the Times reported having seen documents showing that the original cladding specified for the Tower had been a zinc cladding with a fire-retardant core, but in 2014 this was changed to ACM cladding with a PE core to save £293,000 and to allow a change of colour. However, the BBC point out that ‘both types of cladding have the same official fire rating’ (it is not clear what is meant by the word ‘official’).

The motives of the local authority, Kensington and Chelsea, in changing to using this type of cladding are reprehensible then, saving money and making it a nicer colour when viewed from outside, but appears to be within the law as it stands.

But in the end, why did the government not amend the regulations when they had been warned that this needed to happen? Uncaring and incompetent, which just about sums up this Tory administration.

Come to the ‘Not One More Day’ protest in central London tomorrow against the Tory government. Tories Out!


  1. I understand that both the cladding types had British Board of Agrement Certification. Whilst there are clearly errors in the managing of this disaster it is clear that authorities have not learnt or acted on lessons from Lakanal. Does the responsibility lie with Government or those that are responsible for the updating of the Building Regulations, the BRE and certify building materials used in the UK or both?

  2. I think ultimately, the government.

  3. Why is no one mentioning CDM 2007 regulations that states quite clearly that buildings New build or refurb must design out any risks at design stage.