Grenfell Tower report that fails to ban combustible cladding is a 'betrayal and a whitewash', says David Lammy

Review finds poor oversight led to 'race to the bottom' but does not recommend outright prohibition on materials similar to those which appeared to spread fatal fire almost a year ago

May Bulman,Lizzy Buchan
Thursday 17 May 2018 16:26
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MP David Lammy says Grenfell Tower is 'corporate manslaughter', and that arrests should be made

A report that rules out an outright ban on combustible cladding following the Grenfell Tower blaze has been met with a fierce backlash from bereaved families, politicians and building experts.

The review into the fire, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, finds that poor oversight in the building industry led to a “race to the bottom”, but falls short of recommending an outright prohibition on materials similar to those which appeared to spread the fatal fire almost a year ago.

Relatives of those who died in the blaze have told The Independent the decision amounts to allowing the sale of “poisoned water”, claiming that while it may be good for the industry, it places people at risk.

Industry experts meanwhile said it marked a failure to protect life safety and politicians branded it a “a whitewash” and said that without an outright ban, blame for any future fire disasters like Grenfell would lie with the government.

The decision defies calls from the Royal Institute of British Architects, politicians and survivors of the blaze, which killed 71 people, who have all urged the government to ban construction materials that burn.

It also comes after Theresa May pledged £400m to strip flammable cladding similar to that found on Grenfell Tower from housing blocks.

Dame Judith, a former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, also declined to recommend a ban on “desktop studies”, which allow materials to be tested without setting them on fire, despite calls for the practice to be stopped by campaigners.

In the face of widespread condemnation, she appeared to backtrack on her views on cladding, telling a Westminster briefing that she would “be supportive” if Housing Secretary James Brokenshire decided to announce an outright ban on flammable cladding.

She said she was “not an expert on Grenfell” but she personally believed that her recommendations would have prevented the use of the dangerous cladding blamed for the spread of the fire.

The report notes that ignorance and indifference from building contractors were to blame for the “deep flaws” in the current system, as some undertaking building work are “using the ambiguity of regulations and guidance to game the system”.

But ruling out recommending an outright ban on dangerous cladding, it states: “This is most definitely not just a question of the the specification of cladding systems but of an industry that has not reflected and learned for itself, nor looked to other sectors. This does not mean all buildings are unsafe.”

Dame Judith added: “The debate continues to run about whether or not aluminium cladding is used for thermal insulation, weatherproofing or as an integral part of the fabric, fire safety and integrity of the building. This illustrates the siloed thinking that is part of the problem we mist address.

“It is clear that in this type of debate the basic intent of fire safety has been lost.”

Responding to the review, Clarrie Mendy, whose cousin Mary Mendy and her daughter Khadija Saye were killed in the blaze, said: “I’m absolutely disgusted and totally shocked. It’s abominable, and very conflicting considering what Theresa May said yesterday. It might be good for the industry, but it’s not good for the people.

“We know the dangers of this cladding; it’s like selling poisoned water, water that’s there to give you cancer. I’ve got children and grandchildren. I’m not going to be here forever but they don’t need to witness another Grenfell anywhere in this Kingdom. I can’t understand the logic behind it.

”If they’re trying to prevent these kinds of things happening nationally, then why is someone promoting this poison?“

Mr Lammy branded the review as a “betrayal and a whitewash”, saying: “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 simply fail to see how it is deemed appropriate for any combustible material to be used on any tower block in this country and I find it unfathomable that this review has not recommended an outright ban of combustible material.”

Dianne Abbott echoed his concerns, saying: “The refusal to ban flammable cladding outright flies in the face of the wishes of the bereaved and survivors. It also contradicts basic logic.

“Elaborate systems of sanctions and whistle-blowing are unnecessary if the flammable material are banned outright and a proper system of testing is reintroduced. Ultimately, the responsibility for regulating the safety of our built environment lies with Government.

“If they won’t ban these materials, blame for any future fire disasters like Grenfell will lie with them.”

Ben Derbyshire, president of RIBA, slammed the review, saying it failed to recommend simple regulations to protect life safety.

“We are extremely concerned that [the review] has failed to act on the urgent need to immediately protect life safety through a more detailed programme of simplified and improved regulations, standards and guidance,” he said.

“The review recognises that the changes it recommends will require legislative change and take time to fully implement. In the meantime we are left with confusion and lack of clarity. We will be continuing to stress our detailed concerns to government.”

Local councils also condemned the absence of a recommendation to ban combustible cladding and desktop studies. Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), said: “It is 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 and until we have a regulatory and testing system which is fit for the 21st Century.

“As the use and misuse of desktop studies has been at the heart of the problem, the LGA also remains clear that the use of desktop studies that attempt to approve safety compliance must also be banned.”

Conversely, the London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Dan Daly, agreed with Dame Judith's decision not to recommend an outright ban, saying: “We understand why many would want materials such as ACM cladding banned but the Brigade agrees with Dame Judith Hackitt’s conclusion this would not help safety in the long term.“ he said.

”It’s more important that the review concentrates on appropriate testing regimes for building materials, tighter regulations and ensuring that competent people are making decisions about building safety.”

Making a serious of recommendations for buildings of 10 stories or more, the review states that product testing must be made more transparent, with onus on manufacturers to make it clear where their materials can be used safely.

Under current systems, manufacturers do not need to declare if their products have failed safety checks before they successfully pass, Dame Judith said. She recommended manufacturers should test materials that are critical to high-rise safety every three years.

The report recommends creating a dutyholder who has the fire safety responsibility for each high-rise building, as well as greater engagement with residents to ensure their voices are heard.

It also states that a new Joint Competent Authority should be made up of fire authorities, building standard and health and safety officials, which would oversee and have powers to intervene when concerned about safety issues.

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