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Theresa May's chief of staff 'sat on' report warning high-rise blocks like Grenfell Tower were vulnerable to fire

Mirror logo Mirror 14/06/2017 Mikey Smith
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(Video Provided by Reuters)

Theresa May’s new chief of staff was one of a series of housing ministers who “sat on” a report warning high-rise blocks like Grenfell Tower were vulnerable to fire for four years.

A former Chief Fire Officer and secretary of a parliamentary group on fire safety today revealed successive ministers had had damning evidence on their desks since 2013 and nothing had happened.

And the Labour MP who chairs the group said ministers had “sat on” the recommendations for almost four years.

Credits: PA © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: PA

Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until losing his seat in last week’s election, promised to review part B of the Building Regulations 2010, which relate to fire safety, but the review never materialised.

A coroner’s investigation into the blaze at Lakanal House in South London in 2009, which claimed six lives, found panels on the exterior of the block had not provided the required fire resistance and insufficient fire risk assessments had been made.

The gutted tower block in west London © PA The gutted tower block in west London The coroner made a series of recommendation following the tragedy, but while some have been taken up, a full review of building regulations has yet to take place.

The Mirror approached Number 10 and the Department for Communities and Local Government for comment.

Ronnie King, honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue and a former Chief Fire Officer, told LBC Radio this morning they had “strongly recommended” installing fire suppression systems and sprinklers in 4,000 similar tower blocks across the country.

He said: “We were strongly recommending this because the fire at Lakanal House spread within four minutes and came into the flat above and then went on to kill six people, regrettably.”

Credits: PA © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: PA

Mr King said it was likely similar failings existed in West London’s Grenfell House, which erupted in flames in the early hours of this morning.

He said: “I wouldn’t have expected fire to spread like that if there had been automatic fire sprinklers installed.”

London Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who was a firefighter for more than 20 years, said this morning the government had resisted calls to install sprinkler systems in tower blocks.

Credits: A © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: A Mr Fitzpatrick, who chairs the All-Party Group, said the Lakanal House fire should have been a “wake-up call”.

He said: “Four years later, we’re still trying to get the government to undertake that review.”

He said successive ministers had said they were “looking at it”, adding the delay had been worsened by responsibility for building regulations being split between three ministers.

© PA

He added: “You’d have to ask them why they’ve sat on it for four years.”

Mr King said: “It’s nearly 11 years since it was reviewed, and successive ministers since 2013 have actually said ‘we’re still looking at it.’”

He said said Mr Barwell said he was “still looking whether or not to undertake a review” as recently as this year.

© Getty

“He was still looking at it,” he said. “And he was prepared to meet the All-Party Group” to discuss it further. And that’s when the election was called, and we never had the meeting.”

Mr Barwell had been housing minister for a year when the election was called.

And he said James Wharton, who was previously the minister responsible for building regulations, had also met with the group.

Mr King said: “He said he would make a statement. That statement has never been made, and it’s continued.

© Getty

“So we’ve been waiting since 2013 actually, since this was requested to be done.”

He added: “When you’ve got this sort of evidence, you really should be reviewing it.”

Lib Dem Stephen Williams, then a junior DCLG minister, promised in March 2015 that the building regulations would be reviewed in the 2016-17 parliament.

During a debate on Fire Safety, he told MPs: "Following the Lakanal house fire, to which my hon. Friend referred, the coroner called on the Government to simplify the guidance in approved document B of the building regulations.

© AP

"My Department’s Secretary of State committed to a review, which will deliver a revised document in 2016-17; the intention is to simplify the guidance where possible and update and revise the technical content at the same time.

And he specifically responded to calls for sprinklers to be installed in vulnerable blocks.

He said: "They are recognised as a highly effective fire protection measure. It is too early to say how they will fit into the revised approved document, but he should rest assured that the potential benefits will not be ignored."

© PA

In October last year, Mr Barwell told MPs the government had "publicly committed" to reviewing part B of the fire regulations following the Lakanal House fire.

He said: "We have not set out any formal plans to review the building regulations as a whole, but we have publicly committed ourselves to reviewing part B following the Lakanal House fire." Credits: Getty Images Europe © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Getty Images Europe


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