The government will look at making flammable cladding illegal – but did not commit to a ban – after drawing a furious backlash when a report into the Grenfell Tower fire failed to recommend the move.
James Brokenshire, communities secretary, said the cladding blamed for the spread of the fire in the west London tower block was ”unlawful” and “should not have been used”, but he had listened to calls for to outlaw combustible building material.
His intervention came hours after a review of building regulations, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, was branded a “whitewash” and a “betrayal” for stopping short of recommending an outright ban.
The report found indifference and ignorance in the building industry had triggered a “race to the bottom” but defied calls from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), politicians and survivors of the fire, which killed 71 people, who have called on ministers to ban construction materials that burn.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Brokenshire said: “Having listened carefully to concerns, the government will consult on banning the use of combustible materials and cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings.”
He said there would be “no room for doubt” about the materials that could be used on high-rise buildings and also said he will “not hesitate” to ban controversial “desktop studies, which allow cladding to be approved without physical fire safety checks”.
Mr Brokenshire told MPs: “We must create a culture which truly puts people and their safety first, that inspires confidence and yes, rebuilds public trust.
“Dame Judith’s review and the significant changes that flow from it are important first steps, helping us ensure that when we say never again, we mean it.”
John Healey, shadow housing secretary, told the government to bring in a ban immediately, saying it was “beggars belief” that the Hackitt report continued to give a green light to combustible materials in tower blocks.
“I say to the secretary of state, don’t consult on it – do it. 71 people died in Grenfell Tower,” he said.
“In Australia, they had a high-rise fire in 2014. They now have a ban. In Dubai, they had a high-rise fire in 2015. They have a ban.
“We must do the same. We owe it to the Grenfell residents, and we owe it to residents living today in other tower blocks with the same Grenfell-style cladding.”
Grenfell survivors welcomed the statement but said they were “disappointed” that the cladding had not been banned.
Shahin Sadafi, chairman of Grenfell United, said: “Survivors, bereaved and many experts have called for it and they need to listen.
“We also need to know when dangerous cladding will be removed from buildings. Today there are people in hospitals, schools and homes covered with dangerous cladding.
“But this isn’t just about cladding – the whole system of building regulation is broken.”
Dame Judith’s report said the focus on cladding was an example of “siloed thinking” and insisted that there was a need for “a whole system change” to prevent future tragedies.
Ignorance and indifference from building contractors were blamed for the “deep flaws” in the current system, as the report said some undertaking building work were “using the ambiguity of regulations and guidance to game the system”.
Labour MP David Lammy branded the report 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.”
Lord Porter, Tory chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), said it was “disappointing” there was no ban on dangerous cladding and urged the government to bring in a temporary ban “until we have a regulatory and testing system which is fit for the 21st century”.
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