An independent review into fire safety laws in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster has found regulations that allow landlords and contractors to take “shortcuts” are “not fit for purpose”.
Dame Judith Hackitt, the former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, who led the review, said she was “shocked” by some of the practices she encountered and called for a “new intelligent system of regulation and enforcement” for high-rise buildings.
“The mindset of doing things as cheaply as possible and passing on responsibility for problems and shortcomings to others must stop,” she said.
Labour MP David Lammy, who lost a friend in the fire, said the findings were “damning and deeply concerning”.
In September, HuffPost UK spoke to experts in the fire safety industry who warned a “broken” system of fire safety needed to be overhauled in the aftermath of the disaster.
The HuffPost analysis also found crucial fire safety tests are carried out on less than one-in-twenty at-risk buildings each year.
Dame Judith is at pains to make clear high-rise buildings were safe, but only following an ”unprecedented” round of checks following the deadly blaze in Kensington.
Monday’s review, which will report in full later this year and is looking at regulations covering refurbishments and those covering routine fire safety, was commissioned by the Government after the devastating tower fire in which 71 people were killed.
The report found:
- Regulations and guidance are “too complex and unclear”
- The means of assessing the competency of key people involved in the system is “inadequate”, with those involved with high-rise buildings needing no special qualifications
- The route for residents to escalate concerns is “unclear and inadequate”
- Sanctions against those who fail to follow the rules “are too weak”
Lammy said: “Dame Hackitt’s findings are damning and deeply concerning but hardly a surprise in light of the Grenfell Tower fire. We have to say never again. No more cutting corners and no more prioritising cost savings over safety.
“After failing to heed the warnings made to successive Housing Ministers and not acting on the recommendations of the Lakanal House inquest, the Government clearly have to take overdue action on the basis of the findings of this interim report and prepare for an urgent overhaul of existing fire safety regulations when the final report is published in the New Year.”
Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP and spokesperson for communities and local government, said the report “exposes serious failings by the Government”.
“Safety rules have not been properly enforced and the organisations that provide housing have not been held to account,” she said.
“Thousands of families across the country continue to live in unsafe accommodation.
“We need swift action to put the situation right before another tragedy occurs.
“That should include tougher enforcement of the rules and more funding for safety improvements.”
In the review, Dame Judith writes:
“As the review has progressed, it has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.
“This should not be interpreted as meaning that buildings are unsafe. Major building failures, including large-scale fires, are very rare and there are many construction firms, building owners, landlords and others in the system who do the right thing and recognise their responsibilities.
“The unprecedented verification, interim mitigation and remediation work undertaken by fire and rescue services, local authorities and building owners since the summer have ensured that measures are in place to assure residents of high-rise buildings of their safety.”
She says that while there is “plenty of good practice” it is “not difficult to see how those who are inclined to take shortcuts can do so”, adding: “I am convinced of the need for a new intelligent system of regulation and enforcement for high-rise and complex buildings which will encourage everyone to do the right thing and will hold to account those who try to cut corners.”
In response to the report, Downing Street said the report was an “important milestone” and that the Government was “determined to learn the lessons from the fire and from the inquiries”, and re-iterated Dame Judith’s words signalling buildings were safe because of checks on 1,250 buildings.
Her interim report also highlights concerns about increased privatisation of the building inspection regime and the system of self-regulation in terms of fire safety.
One of the regulations criticised is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, which was introduced in 2006, and shifted the burden away from the state and the fire service, which had issued safety certificates.
To ensure buildings are safe, local fire services carry out audits to ensure building owners have carried out fire risk assessments and that they comply with the rules, issuing enforcement notices if they fail to make the grade.
But the Hackitt report warns the system of self-regulation is flawed because private sector consultants do not need any qualifications or training, meaning the dangers posed by multi-storey tower blocks and shopping centres can be assessed by anyone.
The report warns: “While this makes sense for many small, low-risk premises, it is a particular issue for more complex high-rise residential buildings where there are likely to be more sophisticated fire safety strategies and more complex issues around evacuation in the event of a fire. Responsible persons frequently do little to verify competence.”