Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have called on the government to act to make existing tower blocks with combustible materials safe, as experts warn of “thousands” of affected buildings nationwide.
At this week’s Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, housing secretary James Brokenshire confirmed the government would go ahead with a ban on combustible materials on tower blocks.
Experts told Inside Housing the materials likely to be included in the ban – which covers insulation, window panels, balconies and windows – would be present on “thousands” of buildings nationwide.
Writing for Inside Housing, Ahmed Elgwahry, a member of the Grenfell United group of survivors and relatives who lost two family members in the blaze, said: “This ban is the biggest recognition we’ve had from the government that they understand the industry needs fixing, and that new regulation is needed. But this ban must be the start of the conversation, not the end.
“We need to get these dangerous materials off high-rise homes and replaced safely. On Monday night, after James Brokenshire had given his announcement, families went to bed in unsafe blocks.”
Grenfell United is calling for five steps from the government to make existing buildings safe: no loopholes, a new testing regime, a standard for the toxicity of materials, the retrofitting of sprinklers and the implementation of the Hackitt Review recommendations. The last two echo calls from Inside Housing’s Never Again campaign on building safety.
Lucy Carmichael, director of practice at the Royal Institute of British Architects, said: “It could be a big number of buildings which fall into the banned category – certainly thousands.
“What we’d want to see is a risk assessment of all the existing buildings that now wouldn’t comply with the proposed requirements. How would people feel if they’re living and sleeping in a building that would no longer meet the safety standards?”
A senior academic, who did not wish to be named, said the number of existing buildings that would contain materials covered by the new more stringent rules could be “in the thousands”.
Arnold Tarling, a surveyor and fire safety expert, said the government should consider extending the ban to buildings which have been signed off but have not yet been built.
“Otherwise they’ll be building stuff in two or three years’ time which doesn’t comply with the new regulations,” he suggested.
The government has said it is content that “the majority” of projects under way are not using combustible materials in light of the forthcoming ban, but there is no interim measure in place.
The change is likely to be introduced through an amendment to the building regulations, which could require altering the law. The government intends to bring the change in “as soon as possible” this autumn.
It covers tower blocks, care homes, hospitals, residential schools and student accommodation above 18m.
This falls short of the ban survivors had called for – which demanded these sensitive buildings be covered regardless of height.
This week, housing secretary James Brokenshire confirmed that the government will go ahead with a ban on combustible materials on tower blocks in the aftermath
of the Grenfell fire.
This is a vital step in fulfilling the ambition that the prime minister set out in Inside Housing last week to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.
Now, she and her government must take the next step and listen to the survivors
and ensure that existing tower blocks with combustible materials are also made safe.
That is why our Never Again campaign calls for the government to commit to a timeline and provide guidance for remedial works, so that work can begin on all affected private and social residential blocks by the end of 2018.
There is no time to lose.
Emma Maier, editor, Inside Housing
In the days following the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017, Inside Housing launched the Never Again campaign to call for immediate action to implement the learning from the Lakanal House fire, and a commitment to act – without delay – on learning from the Grenfell Tower tragedy as it becomes available.
One year on, we have extended the campaign asks in the light of information that has emerged since.
Here are our updated asks: