Shadow fire minister Karen Lee has said the fire regulatory system is broken and requires a radical overhaul. Writing in the Morning Star during Labour’s conference in Liverpool this week, Lee claimed that “the government’s approach to the public’s safety in the 15 months since Grenfell has been characterised by inaction.”
Lee said that the Conservative’s ideology of privatisation, austerity and deregulation had driven down standards and led to the prioritisation of private profit over public safety and claimed that “a series of fire regulatory failures led to the Grenfell Tower disaster”.
Deregulation in the 1980s created a performance-based system, said Lee, in which “rather than prescriptive rule-making, the system outlines required outcomes, left open to industry to decide how they are met”. Lee said that successive governments had scrapped regulations at the expense of public safety and claimed that fire regulations had failed to hold industry accountable for their products.
“Building regulations relating to cladding assert that “external walls of the building[s] [should] adequately resist the spread of fire,” said Lee. “However, large-scale system tests and desktop studies allow for flammable cladding to be used despite this regulation. “The Fire Brigades Union, the Local Government Association, the housing, communities and local government select committee and the Royal Institute of British Architecture have all raised concerns with testing methods which allow the use of flammable cladding and insulation,” she said.
The solution according to Lee was a complete overhaul of fire safety. “The fire regulatory system is broken and requires a radical overhaul,” said Lee. Labour’s shadow minister also criticised the Hackett review set up in the wake of the Grnfell fire. “The government commissioned the independent Hackett review and presented it as an opportunity for fire safety reform following Grenfell. In reality, Hackett’s recommendations offered no change to regulations. The review acknowledged that existing regulations have caused the industry to “race to the bottom” but did not ban flammable cladding or the methods enabling its use,” Lee said.
Lee also questioned the panel of experts that advised the Hackett review. “It is important to note that the expert panel advising the Hackett review had members who had signed off the use of flammable cladding, such as the Building Research Establishment which delivers the testing that allows for installation of flammable cladding,” said Lee. “The Hackett review failed. The government then pushed the issue into another consultation on banning the use of flammable materials on external walls of high-rise residential buildings,” she said.
While she welcomed the consultation, Lee said that residents living in buildings wrapped in potentially dangerous cladding should not have to wait more than a year for their safety to be consulted on. As of August 16 2018, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has identified 466 buildings that still have Grenfell-like cladding installed. Lee claimed that the threat to these buildings mirrors that of Grenfell and the government needed to take urgent action.