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Grenfell report stops short of cladding ban

Sky News logo Sky News 17/05/2018
71 people were killed in the Grenfell Tower blaze © Getty 71 people were killed in the Grenfell Tower blaze

Radical changes are needed to fix the "broken" system of building regulations in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, a report has said.

Dame Judith Hackitt's report into building regulations and fire safety in England calls for fundamental reform to improve safety and rebuild trust among those living in high-rise buildings.

It concluded that indifference and ignorance led to a "race to the bottom" on building safety practices, with cost put ahead of safety.

The report comes in the wake of the deadly fire at the west London tower block in last June, which killed 71 people.

Video: Police officer on call for Grenfell recalls the tragedy (ITN News)

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At the heart of the new system will be a requirement for the construction industry to take responsibility for delivering safe buildings, "rather than looking to others to tell them what is or is not acceptable".

But the report has stopped short of calling for an outright ban on the flammable cladding blamed by many for the spread of the fire, because it would "not address the root causes" of the problems in building regulations.

Labour's Emma Dent Coad, whose Kensington constituency includes Grenfell Tower, slammed the report as a "total betrayal".

Colleague David Lammy said the review was a "whitewash", adding: "I simply fail to see how it is deemed appropriate for any combustible material to be used on any tower block in this country and I find it unfathomable that this review has not recommended an outright ban on the use of combustible material."

Dame Judith Hackitt, who chairs the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety set up following the Grenfell Tower tragedy © PA Dame Judith Hackitt, who chairs the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety set up following the Grenfell Tower tragedy

Speaking before the publication, Dame Judith told the BBC her report would instead advocate greater clarity and tighter policing of existing guidance, which states cladding must be made of material of limited combustibility.

However, talking to Sky News in a question and answer session post-publication, Dame Judith said she "would be supportive" if the government announced a ban on combustible cladding.

She also did not recommend a ban on so-called "desktop studies", assessments that can be used to approve cladding without physical fire safety tests taking place.

"The proposed change does not ban assessments in lieu of tests, as there are some products and systems for which a full-scale physical test is not possible, but it will significantly reduce their use and ensure that those which are carried out are conducted rigorously and properly recorded for further scrutiny," the report said.

File photo dated 14/06/17 of the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London © PA File photo dated 14/06/17 of the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London

Among the more than 50 recommendations are calls for:

:: "Products that are critical to the safety" of tower blocks [this would include combustible cladding] should be re-rested by manufacturers at least once every three years

:: A "clear, senior" building owner or landlord should be on a register and held responsible for all safety aspects of a tower block

:: A "Joint Competent Authority" should be created made up of local authority building standards, fire and rescue & HSE.
As in aviation (CAA) it should be compulsory for concerns to be reported. Council planners should be required to consult it over new tower blocks and new buildings that impact on existing ones.

:: Residents should have the right to see safety documents and any concerns from them should be escalated "to an independent body"

:: More construction product testing facilities should be created and they should all be required to publish a summary of passes and failures [at present they say it is all commercially confidential]

Setting out her proposals, Dame Judith said there was a "systemic problem" and called for a new regulator to be established.

She added that some building companies use the ambiguity around the rules to "game the system", with the chief motivation to "do things as quickly and cheaply as possible" rather than focusing on quality.

The report also found there was ignorance surrounding the rules, uncertainty about who takes responsibility and inadequate oversight.

"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 indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice," Dame Judith said.

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