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Grenfell fire report will call for wholesale change on fire safety

Stopped short of recommending ban on combustible cladding

Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

A report on building regulations after the Grenfell Tower tragedy will call for "a wholesale change in culture" on fire safety.

But the report by Dame Judith Hackitt will stop short of calling for an outright ban on the flammable cladding blamed by many for the spread of the fire which broke out on the fourth floor of the west London tower block last June.

The fire killed 71 people last June. Aluminium cladding with a combustible plastic core is thought to have contributed to the rapid spread of the fire.

Dame Judith said her report will call for greater clarity and tighter policing of guidance already in place, which says cladding must be made of material of limited combustibility.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme ahead of the publication of her report, Dame Judith said: "We need to put in place a new regulatory framework that holds people to account and makes them responsible.

"This is a broken system that needs to be fixed."

Dame Judith told Today: "We have to put in place a new system that holds people to account ... a much stronger regulatory regime that ensures that people who take short cuts or do not do what they are responsible for are held to account and see tougher sanctions as a result.

"It is a wholesale culture change. It is a much stronger regulatory regime for high-rise buildings that recognises that there is an inherently high level of risk involved."

Dame Judith said she did not think that an outright cladding ban would work.

"The regulations and guidance that exists today already says that the only type of cladding you can use on high-rise buildings must either be of limited combustibility or must be subject to a full test," she said.

"I don't know of any systems containing combustible materials that have passed that test.

"Given that those are the standards that exist today, it is clear to me that to make this effective we have to go beyond simply specifying what can and can't be used. We have to put in place gateways that hold these people to account and pick them up if they try to short-cut the system in any way."

Dame Judith said: "The guidance already says that you can only use materials of limited combustibility or materials that have been fully tested.

"It is clear from Grenfell and from the other tests that have been done that despite the guidance currently saying that, people were putting other materials up, so I don't think a ban will work.

"My investigation has determined that there are people out there taking short cuts, cutting costs and not taking responsibility for building buildings that are safe to live in.

"The cultural change is absolutely fundamental. People need to take responsibility for the decisions they are making, they need to take responsibility for complying with the requirements."

The chairman of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter, said: "It is good that Dame Judith's report agrees that the current system is not fit for purpose and has set out a range of recommendations for its long-term reform.

"However, our immediate priority is to ensure that a fire like that at Grenfell never happens again, and to make certain the buildings which people live, visit and work in are safe today.

"It is therefore disappointing that Dame Judith has stopped short of recommending a ban on combustible materials and the use of desktop studies, both essential measures to improve safety.

"The Government should nevertheless act without delay to introduce a temporary ban on the use of combustible materials on complex and high-rise buildings until we have a regulatory and testing system which is fit for the 21st century."

Labour MP and Grenfell campaigner David Lammy branded the review "a betrayal and a whitewash".

It is a broken system and banning cladding on its own is not going to fix it

Mr Lammy said: "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. I will continue to stand with the Grenfell families and will continue to call for an outright ban on any combustible materials.

Shahin Sadafi, chairman of Grenfell United, said: "Worrying that a fire like Grenfell could happen again is something that keeps many of us awake at night.

"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."

Responding to criticism that her report failed to recommend the banning of combustible cladding, Dame Judith Hackitt said: "If people feel I haven't gone far enough and for this system to work in the future requires, in addition, that there is further clarity or indeed banning of some of the materials which are currently used, I don't have a problem with that.

"What I will be disappointed about is if people think simply banning cladding is going to fix this problem. It is a broken system and banning cladding on its own is not going to fix it."

She said non-compliant materials have found their way through the system, adding: "If we simply ban some more of those materials we will not resolve a problem which is actually about a broken system."

Dame Judith Hackitt said she was open to seeing combustible cladding banned in the future.

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