LONDON, May 17 — The British government said today it would look at banning building cladding blamed for fuelling last year’s Grenfell Tower fire, which left 71 people dead.
Housing minister James Brokenshire said he would consult on a ban for high-rise buildings, as part of a shake-up of regulations intended to ensure there was “never again” a repeat of the tragedy.
When the fire broke out in a fourth-floor flat in the social housing block on June 14, the flames rapidly spread up to the 24-storey tower, consuming the whole building.
Focus immediately turned to the recent renovation of the 1960s concrete block, and the cladding fitted to the outside.
“Let me be clear—the cladding believed to be on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations. It should not have been used,” Brokenshire told the House of Commons.
“But I will ensure there is no room for doubt over what materials can be used safely in cladding of high-rise residential buildings.
“Having listened carefully to concerns, the government will consult on banning the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings.”
The announcement came just hours after a government-commissioned review of building regulations after the fire declined to recommend such a ban.
“Cladding is one issue, there are many other features and many other shortcuts out there that could result in other disasters in the future which we need to address,” review author Dame Judith Hackitt told BBC radio.
The engineer advocated a “new regulatory framework” rather than an outright ban, saying her recommendations would have prevented the type of materials used on Grenfell being used.
But families of those killed in the disaster, as well as architects, reacted with outrage, while one London MP, David Lammy, calling her review “a whitewash”.
Brokenshire also went beyond the review in announcing a consultation on banning “desktop studies”, used to assess insulation and cladding systems in lieu of physical tests.
Shahin Sadafi, chair of survivors’ group Grenfell United, welcomed the announcements “but we are disappointed that they haven’t just banned this dangerous material”.
“We also need to know when dangerous cladding will be removed from buildings. Today there are people in hospitals, schools and homes covered with dangerous cladding,” he said.
“But this isn’t just about cladding—the whole system of building regulation is broken.
“The industry has too much influence over regulation and testing, desktop studies are totally flawed, profit is valued more than people’s safety, and residents are left powerless. All of this must change.”
Brokenshire said the government agreed with the review’s assessment that the current system of regulations needed “major reform and a change of culture”.
On Wednesday, the government promised to fund £400 million (2.2 billion) of work to remove and replace dangerous cladding on 158 social housing blocks across Britain. — AFP