Part 1 of the Inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower has been published and the obvious question is why hasn’t the government removed the cladding from the other 400 high rise buildings that could be a danger to those living inside them.
Compartmentation of the building, whereby fires were supposed to be contained within individual flats, therefore failed. The whole building was ablaze. The “stay put” guidance was based on compartmentation, and there was no plan in place for changing from “stay put” advice to “get out”. I raised these issues after the Lakanal House fire, in which six people died, as part of my report as Chair of the Planning and Housing Committee of the London Assembly. It is staggering that the same mistakes can be made after so many warnings.
The cladding on Grenfell Tower did not comply with the Building Regulations. The Inquiry did not make a recommendation to remove the cladding on other buildings because it was self evident that it must be done, and “because it is accepted that it must be done”. The Chair adds that “the programme of remedial work should be pursued as vigorously as possible.”
It is more than two years since the Grenfell disaster – it is gross negligence of the government and the owners of these buildings that they are still smothered in this flammable substance.
The second question is why Ministers ignored warnings from within the industry that the regulations were confusing and needed revision? Part two of the Grenfell Inquiry has to quickly give us the answer. My view is that the desire of Minister’s to eliminate red tape and promote self regulation, led to a widespread culture of cutting corners on health and safety. The fire brigade lacked the regulatory powers and resources to ensure that buildings were safe, but continued to plan their response to emergencies on the assumption that the building regulations would contain the fires in one place. The Lakanal House fire should have shown the London Fire Brigade that this wasn’t the case, which is why I was the first elected politician to call for the public inquiry into that fire. Sadly, the public inquiry did not happen.
We failed to learn lessons when we had the chance, I hope the Grenfell Tower Inquiry can speed up the process of making people’s homes safe places to sleep.