Grenfell Tower fire: Tory local government chief warns Government tower block safety checks are flawed

‘We can’t be certain that what we know now is any better than what we knew two weeks ago’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 30 June 2017 08:57 BST
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Ministers had blundered by testing only the core of the panels on high-rise blocks and not the insulation behind them, Lord Porter has said
Ministers had blundered by testing only the core of the panels on high-rise blocks and not the insulation behind them, Lord Porter has said

The Conservative local government chief has savaged the Government’s tower block safety checks after the Grenfell fire – warning not all of the cladding is being tested.

Ministers had blundered by testing only the core of the panels on high-rise blocks and not the insulation behind them, which may not be fire-resistant, Lord Porter said.

“The Government has not done the retest properly,” the Tory peer and chairman of the Local Government Association said.

“They are not testing the whole system. We should be testing the insulation. There is more than a good chance that the insulation is probably the main problem.”

Lord Porter said the insulation – between the wall of the tower block and the panel itself – needed to be of a certain type, in order to prevent the spread of fire.

“The Government needs to listen to a wider set of opinions and not just the experts they have got. We can’t have confidence in that.”

The criticisms come after - astonishingly – every sample panel tested so far failed safety tests, a total of 137 at the latest count released yesterday.

Combustible cladding is thought to be the reason for the “unprecedented” spread of the fire in Grenfell Tower, which killed at least 80 people on 14 June.

This week, Theresa May told local authorities to assume that all samples they send in will fail the safety tests and “take any measures that are necessary”.

Lord Porter agreed that was likely, but said: “They will fail because the thing that’s being tested, at the request of the experts, isn’t the right thing to test. We need to test the whole panel.”

If that happened, he suggested, many panels would pass the test – because they “have got a certificate to say that they were suitable”.

“We can’t be certain that what we know now is any better than what we knew two weeks ago,” Lord Porter warned, on the BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.

However, that did not mean local councils had been wrong to evacuate tower blocks, because those decisions had been made because of other safety failings, he said.

When it was first revealed that around 600 tower blocks across England would be tested, the Government played down suggestions that most would fail safety tests.

There has also been criticism of how long it is taking to work through the samples sent in, more than a fortnight after the tragedy in West London.

Meanwhile, it was revealed today that the cladding used to refit Grenfell Tower was changed to a cheaper version, to save £293,000.

Whereas zinc panels would have been non-combustible, the aluminium cladding eventually used had a flammable polyethylene core.

Housing officials demanded “good costs” to satisfy a council boss, according to emails leaked to The Times, with little evidence of safety concerns being raised.

The cladding used is the focus of a criminal investigation and will be a central issue in the public inquiry, to be led by the retired appeal court judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

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