Grenfell review calls for “radical rethink” of safety but no cladding ban

A final report into the Grenfell Tower fire has not recommended a ban on flammable cladding, despite concluding that an indifference to and ignorance of rules had led to a “race to the bottom” in building safety, whereby cost is prioritised over safety. 

Leading the review, Dame Jude Hackitt has set out a series of proposals to make high-rise flats safer to live in following the 14 June disaster in which 71 people sadly died. The 156-page report concluded the package of regulations and guidance for meeting safety requirements them were "ambiguous and unclear", while the voices of residents would commonly go “unheard” even when safety issues were alerted to authorities. 

In the report, Hackitt said: "Currently regulations and guidance are not always read by those who need to, and when they do the guidance is misunderstood and misinterpreted."

This final report sets out over 50 recommendations for government as to how to deliver a more robust regulatory system for the future. It sets out a new regulatory framework which is designed to create a more simple and effective mechanism for driving building safety, provide stronger oversight of duty holders with incentives for the right behaviours and to reassert the role of residents.

But Dame Judith said prohibited certain practices would "not address the root causes" of the problems.

"When we met Dame Jude Hackitt we asked for an outright ban on combustible cladding. We are disappointed and saddened she didn't listen to us."
Grenfell United chairman Shahin Sadafi

She added: "The debate continues to run about whether or not aluminium cladding is used for thermal insulation, weather-proofing or an internal part of the fabric, fire safety and integrity of the building. This illustrates the siloed thinking that is part of the problem we must address. 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.”

Despite Hackitt's findings, James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, announced a consultation on a ban in a statement to the House of Commons about plans for new building safety rules. Brokenshire announced the plan "having listened carefully" to others on the issue.

Announcing the consultation, Brokenshire said: "We must create a culture that truly puts people and their safety first, that inspires confidence and, yes, rebuilds public trust."

Main findings of the final report:

  • The roles and responsibilities of those procuring, designing, constructing and maintaining buildings are unclear
  • The package of regulations and guidance can be ambiguous and inconsistent
  • The processes that drive compliance with building safety requirements are weak and complex with poor record keeping and change control in too many cases
  • Competence across the system is patchy
  • The product testing, labelling and marketing regime is opaque and insufficient
  • The voices of residents often goes unheard, even when safety issues are identified.

The findings follow the interim report published last December in which Hackitt called for a major culture change in the building industry, with the chair of the independent report slating the regulatory safety system as “not fit for purpose”. 

She set out six broad areas for change which included ensuring that regulation and guidance is risk-based, improving levels of competence within the industry and proper enforcement of regulations.

The campaign group Grenfell United has responded to the report by expressing its disappointment at the report and reiterated the group’s belief that the building regulation system was “broken”. The chairman, along with building firms and opposing politicians are demanding an immediate ban on cladding.

Chairman Shahin Sadafi said: “When we met Dame Judith Hackitt we asked her for an outright ban on combustible cladding. We are disappointed and saddened that she didn't listen to us and she didn't listen to other experts. The cladding on the Grenfell Tower was deemed to be limited combustibility, but it cost 72 lives. It must be banned. We need to hear from Government a clear promise that these dangerous materials will never be used on homes again. This isn't just about cladding - the whole system of building regulation is broken.”

The final report was also slammed by Labour MP David Lammy who labelled the review a “betrayal” and “whitewash”. “It is unthinkable and unacceptable that so many people can die in a disaster like Grenfell and one year on flammable cladding has not been banned,” Lammy said.

The report comes just a day after the government announced a £400m operation to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations.

Commenting on the report, Edel Christie, UK managing director for buildings at Arcadis, said: “Although major disasters like Grenfell are thankfully rare, the findings of the Hackitt Review point to multiple weaknesses in regulation, competence and allocation of responsibility on building projects. Industry’s inability to assure and demonstrate that all parties, owners, constructors or operators have taken responsibility for their part in the process lies at the heart of the broken business model highlighted by the Grenfell tragedy.

"This has undermined confidence in the integrity and safety of buildings, and we need to rebuild this trust as quickly as possible. The Review Team have worked fast in developing their report, but the recommendations now require both government and industry to maintain this momentum. Our sector needs to act quickly, focusing on how we change the way responsibility is divided on projects, working with the government and the supply chain to ensure that we all understand how we can properly fulfil our roles.”  

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