The Government has announced it will consider banning flammable cladding just hours after a review into building regulations launched in the wake of the Grenfell disaster failed to recommend such a move.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s long-awaited report was widely condemned by politicians and industry experts on Thursday as being a “missed opportunity” in setting new safety standards.
The report was criticised for failing to go far enough to prevent a repeat of the tragedy, which killed 71 people in June last year.
The Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire, told the Commons on Thursday: “Let me be clear, the cladding believed to be on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations. It should not have been used. But I will ensure there is no room for doubt over what materials can be used safely in cladding in high rise residential buildings.
“Having listened carefully to concerns, the government will consult on banning the use of combustible materials on cladding systems on high rise residential buildings.”
Brokenshire’s announcement comes after Theresa May said on Wednesday that dangerous cladding on 158 tower blocks will be replaced in the next two years, with the Government bearing the £400million cost of the work.
The cladding which was installed during the Grenfell refurbishment, completed in 2016, has been widely blamed for accelerating the speed at which the fire spread through the 24-storey tower. Flammable insulation and cladding are being stripped from high-rise buildings in England and Wales.
Brokenshire also warned private landlords that they could face action if they did not act responsibly. “We have called on building owners in the private sector to follow the example set by the social sector and not pass costs on to leaseholders.
“I find it outrageous that some private sector landlords have been slow to co-operate with us on this vital work. I am calling on them to do the right thing and if they don’t I am not ruling anything out at this stage,” Brokenshire said.
Labour has been highly critical of the Hackitt review, with the shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey, saying it “beggars belief” that the report “continues to give a green light to combustible materials on high rise blocks”.
Healey said: “I say to the Secretary of State, don’t consult on it. Do it. Seventy-two people died in Grenfell Tower.
“In Australia, they had a high-rise fire in 2014. They now have a ban. In Dubai, they had a high-rise fire in 2015. They have a ban.
“We must do the same. We owe it to the Grenfell residents, and we owe it to residents living today in other tower blocks with the same Grenfell-style cladding.”
Echoing the criticism from across the political spectrum, Ben Derbyshire, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) president, said: “This review should have been a defining moment – a set of findings to bring real and meaningful change to the complexity and confusion surrounding core building regulations guidance.
“Whilst there are elements of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review that we very much welcome, we are extremely concerned that it has failed to act on the urgent need to immediately protect life safety through a more detailed programme of simplified and improved regulations, standards and guidance.
“The review recognises that the changes it recommends will require legislative change and take time to fully implement. In the meantime we are left with confusion and lack of clarity.
“We will be continuing to stress our detailed concerns to Government.”
Jane Duncan, chair of RIBA’s expert advisory group on fire safety, added: “Focusing on just a small number of very high buildings is a major missed opportunity.”