The government is facing calls for a full public inquiry into the causes of the devastating fire that ripped through a tower block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Speaking to Construction News, group secretariat of the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group Ronnie King said a public inquiry was urgently needed in the wake of the incident in north Kensington.
Mr King said: “I am sure after this incident a public inquiry of the sort we did not have after the Lakanal fire should be considered.
“The Lakanal House report wasn’t a public inquiry; it was a coroners court. However, something like this will have to force people to come out and be challenged.
“One thing that has to come out of this is that regulations have to be reviewed – they cannot ignore this now.”
Royal Institute of British Architects president Jane Duncan also called for a public inquiry into the matter, saying: ”Fire and people safety are absolutely critical in all buildings, which is why there must be an urgent public inquiry to fully understand how this tragedy occurred.”
Police have so far confirmed that 12 people lost their lives in the fire that ripped through Grenfell Tower in west London yesterday, with that figure expected to rise.
Former housing minister Gavin Barwell is facing questions over delays to a review of Building Regulations aimed at improving the safety of high-rise buildings.
In October last year Mr Barwell, who this week was appointed as Theresa May’s new chief of staff, announced a review into Part B of the Building Regulations 2010 that cover fire safety in tall and wooden buildings.
However, the review has yet to be launched. In March, a spokesperson for the DCLG said the review would be undertaken “in due course”.
The Part B review was due to look at how fire safety measures could be improved following a major fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London, in 2009, in which six people lost their lives.
Speaking in 2009, London Assembly member Jenny Jones called for a public inquiry into the Lakanal fire to determine whether 1960s tower blocks were ”genuinely safe”. However, an inquiry did not materialise.
Ms Jones told the London Assembly’s planning and housing committee: “I think the first thing we have to have is a public inquiry, because we’ve got to know, not only for this block, but for all other thousands of blocks in the rest of Britain, whether or not they are genuinely safe.”
Speaking to CN following yesterday’s events, Ronnie King said that more than 4,000 older blocks in the UK had the same regulations applied to them as Lakanal House and Grenfell Tower.
“There are 4,000 older tower blocks, our recommendation was that social housing providers should consider fire provision if they have a building like Lakanal House, which has a tricky design,” he said.
“The message to other social landlords and housing providers is unless there is a review of [Part B] of the regulations, you could face multi-million-pound legal costs and compensation should you experience a Lakanal House tragedy.”
A spokesperson from contractor Rydon, which completed a £8.7m refurbishment of Grenfell House in 2016, said that the work met current Building Regulations.
“We are shocked to hear of the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower and our immediate thoughts are with those that have been affected by the incident, their families, relatives and friends.
“Rydon completed a refurbishment of the building in the summer of 2016 for KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation) on behalf of the council, which met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.
“We will co-operate with the relevant authorities and emergency services and fully support their enquiries into the causes of this fire at the appropriate time.
“Given the ongoing nature of the incident and the tragic events overnight, it would be inappropriate for us to speculate or comment further at this stage.”
Writing in Fire Management Journal in March, industry expert Sam Webb said “really serious questions” should be asked in parliament over fire safety, citing conflict between the fire resistance of materials used to make more energy-efficient buildings.
“The materials are not fire-resistant and in some cases they’re flammable,” Mr Webb said.
Speaking to the Guardian in the wake of the Grenfell fire, architect and founder of construction dispute resolution group Probyn Miers said he was surprised how quickly the fire had spread.
The inquest into the incident at Lakanal House – which was substantially refurbished in 2006/07 – found that there was no requirement for cladding on the structure to be fire-resistant.
In his response to the coroner’s report into Lakanal fire, former communities secretary Eric Pickles said: “In relation to Building Regulations, I have noted your concerns about the difficulties that some of those involved in the inquests had with the interpretation of Approved Document B.
“I can assure you that my department is committed to a programme of simplification. However, the design of fire protection in buildings is a complex subject and should remain, to some extent, in the realm of professionals.
“We have commissioned research which will feed into a future review of this part of the Building Regulations. We expect this work to form the basis of a formal review leading to the publication of a new edition of the Approved Document in 2016/17.
“I am grateful for your recommendations and can assure you of my commitment to ensuring that the safety of residents in high-rise buildings continues to be a priority.”
In January 2010 a London Assembly inquiry into the fire safety of London’s tall and timber-framed buildings said that regulations had “not kept pace” with innovation in construction methods.
The report stated: “Over the last 40 years building standards and regulations have been reviewed and updated but retain a requirement for materials and construction methods to offer a minimum period of fire resistance.
“There is a view that the regulations have not kept pace with innovation in the construction industry and some within the design.”
However, despite the warnings the government has yet to begin a review into Building Regulations for tall buildings.
A representative of the Fire Brigades Union said the Grenfell Tower fire was “shocking”, adding that tower blocks were supposed to be designed “to avoid this sort of thing happening”.
Tony Devenish, Conservative London Assembly member for Kensington and Chelsea, said: “I have been stunned by the scale and ferocity of the fire and of the heart-breaking stories emerging from the scene.
“Rightly questions are already being asked about the safety measures in place to prevent this kind of tragedy. I am keeping up to date with all of the latest developments and in time I will be seeking answers to these questions.”
A parliamentary report by environment, transport and regional affairs committee undertaken in 2000 raised questions over whether small-scale tests which were being undertaken at the time adequately evaluated the safety performance of external cladding systems in a “live” fire situation.
The report said: “We do not believe that it should take a serious fire in which many people are killed before all reasonable steps are taken towards minimising the risks.
“We believe that all external cladding systems should be required either to be entirely non-combustible, or to be proven through full-scale testing not to pose an unacceptable level of risk in terms of fire spread.”