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London Building Act 'would have averted Grenfell disaster'

Fire experts have said that the Grenfell Tower in west London would not have burned down if safety measures from the London Building Act were still in place.

At the time of going to press, 79 people were feared dead or missing after fire ripped through Grenfell Tower last week.

Rydon completed an £8.7m refurbishment of Grenfell Tower last year. In a statement, the company said its work “met all required building control, fire regulation and health & safety standards”. 

Speaking to Construction News, architect and fire expert Sam Webb, who represented families of those who died at the inquest into the 2009 Lakanal Fire in Camberwell, south London, has said that under previous building regulations that were phased out, the 24-storey tower would not have burned down.

Mr Webb said: “Lakanal House and Grenfell were both known as Section 20 buildings, which meant that extra fire safety measures were imposed on their designs.

“One of the things that the London Building Act specified is that the outside of all buildings had to be fireproof. That applied to any building, whether that was a two-storey house or a tower over 100 ft high.”

Section 20 of the London Building Act (1939) ensured that extra measures were put in place to safeguard the danger arising from fire within certain classes of building. This applied to any building over 30 m in height or any building over 25 m in height which had a volume over 930 sq m.

The laws were first drafted by Sir Christopher Wren in 1667 in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London and had been designed to prevent a similar catastrophe hitting the capital again.

The act was amended over successive centuries until it was superseded by national Building Regulations in the mid-1980s. Both Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974, and Lakanal House, which was built in 1959, were constructed under the London Building Act regulations.

In December 2012, the then communities secretary Eric Pickles announced the repeal of Sections 20 and 21 of the London Building (Amendment) Act 1939. The repeal came into force in January 2013.

Former chief fire officer Ronnie King said: “Under the London Building Act the outside walls of buildings had to have a one-hour fire resistance. When the national Building Regulations replaced them in 1986 tall buildings only needed to have a class 0 certification, which meant that materials just had to deflect flames.

“Lakanal has exposed that weakness and this tragedy has exposed it.”

In the wake of the tragedy that unfolded at Grenfell, Croydon Council announced that it would fit sprinklers to 25 tower blocks in the borough with immediate effect. The new measure will apply to tower blocks of 10 storeys or more in height.

Prime minister Theresa May has announced a public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, stating that the incident needed to be “properly investigated”.

Shadow housing minister John Healey demanded answers from the government on Tuesday after it was revealed that a number of ministers had ignored warnings from fire experts over the dangers posed to people living in high-rise blocks.

The mayor of London Sadiq Khan has written to Mrs May asking for an interim report to be published as soon as possible and measures put in place to safeguard documents that may be used as evidence in the forthcoming inquiry.

Speaking on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on Tuesday, Hingwoods Chartered Surveyors associate director Arnold Tarling said the current Building Regulations were a “mess”.

Mr Tarling said: “These tower blocks, and this one in particular, were built under the old London Building Act. It should never have behaved like this [caught fire].

“We have never had a disaster in a Section 20 building, it is the changes to the Building Regulations that led to this. The old ones worked.

“The reason London survived the Blitz without turning into a huge fireball is because of the London Building Act.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • We have the classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    It was far simpler, especially with fire regs when you just looked it up.

    Surely the Sale of Goods and Services Act should come into play both during procurement and now for replacement, these materials were clearly not fit for their intended purposes. What about the professional negligence of those involved in design and specification of these materials both consultants and the employees involved.


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