Friday 14 June 2019 marks two years since a fire at Grenfell Tower claimed the lives of 72 people. It is a tragedy that should never have happened, and the aftermath has led to calls from across the industry for fundamental changes in UK Building Regulations and Fire Safety.
It is a sad fact that there is little difference between the fire safety regulations now, and those in place before. We are still waiting for the government to start a full review of current fire safety standards and England lags behind Scotland, Wales and other countries when it comes to changes that will make homes safer. Until the government addresses these critical concerns, new homes are still being built using the fire safety guidance widely deemed as unfit for purpose.
The government response to the fire has consisted of a series of reviews, consultations and more recently, the additional testing of construction materials. But action has been shockingly slow. Following the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt, the government announced their decision to ban the use of combustible materials in high-rise residential buildings. Although welcome, this ban only currently applies to residential buildings over 18m. This effectively leaves thousands of residential buildings, and other high-risk buildings such as schools, hotels and care homes at risk of being cladded in materials of similar combustibility as was used on Grenfell.
The RIBA has responded to government consultations on: Desktop Studies, a Clarification of Approved Document B and Combustible Cladding. Following evidence from the RIBA, MPs on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee also supported our calls for UK government to go further in their response to the fire in an inquiry held by the committee last year.
We later responded to the Consultation on the Technical Review of Approved Document B – the building regulations for fire safety, and urged UK government to provide sufficient resources for a swift and comprehensive review and to ensure that the updated guidance includes the recommendations that we and others in industry have been calling for. The government review of Approved Document B and associated standards, however, is yet to commence and industry still awaits further clarification.
More recently, UK government published proposals for a new building safety regulatory system in response to the Hackitt Review: ‘Building a safer future: proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system’. Some of these proposals go further than those suggested in the Hackitt Review itself. The RIBA particularly commended proposals for tighter regulation of higher risk residential buildings of 18m or more in height – much lower than the 30m+ threshold recommended in the Hackitt Review. UK government simultaneously launched a consultation inviting feedback on the proposals outlined in this report which the RIBA will be responding to over the next few months.
Despite widespread calls from the industry and MPs to mandate sprinklers, however, the government has yet to take any action and the silence on this issue is deafening. Until more changes are implemented, we cannot claim that a tragedy on the magnitude of Grenfell Tower will not happen again.