POLITICS

Theresa May Calls For 'Major National Investigation' Into Cladding As 95 Buildings Fail Fire Safety Tests

Labour: figures point to 'a collapse in fire safety checks'.

27/06/2017 12:47 BST | Updated 27/06/2017 16:55 BST
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Theresa May has called for a “major national investigation” into tower block cladding after the number of high rises which failed fire safety tests rose to 95.

The Prime Minister urged the expansion of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster as her Cabinet was told that samples of external material from every single high-rise building tested - including some private sector properties -had failed.

The PM’s official spokesman said that she wanted the cladding issue to form a possible “second phase” of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower blaze on 14 June, which is feared to have killed at least 79 people.

The fire, believed to have started in a fridge-freezer, destroyed 151 homes in the high-rise in north Kensington, west London.

And in a bid to take more urgent action, a new ‘expert panel’ of fire safety experts was created to advise the Government on “immediate measures” that can be taken to make buildings safer.

The independent panel, which will report to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, will be chaired by former London fire commissioner Sir Ken Knight.

He will be joined by Peter Bonfield, Chief Executive of the Building Research Establishment, Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council and Amanda Clack, EY partner and President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

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Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.

The “100% failure” rate of the 95 properties - spread across 32 council areas - was revealed on Tuesday morning by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, as he updated fellow ministers with the results of the newest tests. 

Downing Street later said that private sector properties were included in the total, but could not specify how many.

May told the Cabinet that she wanted to discover “what’s gone wrong” to allow the flawed cladding to be fitted to so many buildings over two decades.

Sources said that the investigation would focus on tower block materials used since 2000.

The wider public inquiry into the disaster has yet to appoint a chairman, but No.10 said that the PM wanted residents closely involved in drafting its remit.

The testing facility used by the Government can test up to 100 pieces of cladding a day, but so far only 32 local authorities have provided samples.

“The Secretary of State said he wanted samples to be sent in urgently,” the spokesman said.

Downing Street added that it would give an update later on the progress of checks on schools and hospitals requested in the wake of the blaze.

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Labour's John Healey

But Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey said the results of the tests so far “point to a collapse in our system of fire safety checks and controls”.

“Ministers must now do a great deal more to reassure residents that everything is being done to keep them safe,” he said.

“They must improve the testing process which has so far been too slow, too narrow and too secretive. The Prime Minister promised that 100 tests a day could be done but two weeks on from the Grenfell Tower fire only 95 have been completed.

“Ministers must also not outsource all responsibility for urgent remedial action to councils and housing associations. They must guarantee that where fire risks are found they will make available upfront funding, including for re-cladding buildings, fire prevention work and retro-fitting sprinkler systems, starting with the highest-risk blocks.”

Sajid Javid said he wanted swift action to tackle the ongoing issues with cladding failing safety tests.

“I want to know if there are measures we can put in place now to keep people safe and I want them done immediately. I want the public to be confident everything possible is being done.

“That is why I am announcing a new expert advisory panel to advise Government on any immediate action that is required to ensure all buildings are safe.” 

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The TUC welcomed the announcement by the government that cladding on hospitals and schools will be tested for safety but on Tuesday said it was concerned that no guidance has been given to other employers who may have staff working in high-rise buildings.

General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Millions of people across the UK work in high-rise buildings, many of which could have cladding and insulation similar to that used in Grenfell Tower.

“Those workers need urgent reassurances about their safety, and if there is any risk to them, there must be immediate action.

“The government should give advice to employers on how to ensure that their buildings are safe. That includes information about what types of cladding and insulation material may be dangerous, how to get samples tested and what remedial action they should take if their cladding fails safety tests.

“The government needs to ensure that all high-rise buildings are made safe.”