The catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017 demonstrated the clear need for an urgent and comprehensive review of our building regulations.
When the subsequent Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt, published its Final Report in May 2018, much of the media and stakeholder reaction focused on what it had not recommended: a ban on the use of materials of limited combustibility in the cladding of high-rise residential buildings.
This absence reflected an outcomes-based, non-prescriptive approach, and was the subject of much criticism, including from this Committee.
We therefore decided to hold a very short inquiry, to hear from industry representatives, fire safety experts and building owners and insurers. We wanted to discuss the conclusions and recommendations of the Independent Review, and consider the specific immediate changes needed to improve the safety of residential tower blocks, as well as how improvements could be applied more widely in the construction industry.
Following this short inquiry, our main conclusions and recommendations are as follows:
It is not a binary choice between having an outcomes-based system with greater accountability, robust regulatory oversight and strengthened sanctions on the one hand, and prescription on the other hand. The two are not mutually exclusive.
From builders choosing their own inspection services, manufacturers selecting product testers for their perceived leniency, Fire Rescue Authorities inspecting the work of their own commercial trading arms, to private sector companies’ influence over the fire safety guidance in which they have a commercial interest. Conflicts of interest are pervasive within the industry.
It cannot be right for dangerous cladding to be banned from new buildings, but for it to continue to be permitted on existing buildings. The Government should fully fund the replacement of any cladding on existing buildings which had been permitted, but is subsequently banned as a consequence of the consultation.
The Independent Review was right to call for a more effective testing regime. While the BS 8414 full-scale fire test has advocates, it does not command the full support of the entire industry.
The Government should make funding available to fit sprinklers into council and housing association-owned residential buildings above 18 metres, and issue guidance to that effect to building owners in the private sector.
More than a year has passed since the Grenfell Tower fire and it is unacceptable that so many private buildings continue to have unsafe cladding. This is a difficult and complex legal situation and, while the Government says it will rule out no options, it is unclear what more they can do to compel private building owners to act.
Published: 18 July 2018