LONDON: Theresa May’s new chief of staff failed to carry out a review of fire regulations in tower blocks – despite being warned of the potential for a devastating blaze.
Former Housing Minster Gavin Barwell – who was given a top Downing Street job within days of losing his seat last week – refused to give a date for when the review of regulations would take place just eight months ago. The review was called for after an inquest into a tower block fire in Camberwell, south-east London, which killed six people and injured 20 in 2009, ruled the regulations covering such buildings were not up to scratch.
In the wake of the inferno that has engulfed Grenfell Tower in Kensington, one expert confirmed the recommendations had not been acted upon.
Ronnie King, the Honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group, told LBC: “The All-Party Group were looking at the issue of fire suppression in all the tower blocks with similar designs to this.
“And we understand that there are around 4,000 tower blocks that don’t have fire sprinklers fitted into them.
“That was a recommendation, which was down to each local council and landlords to determine the appropriateness of this.
“We were strongly recommending this as the fire at Lakanal House spread within four minutes to the flat above and went on to kill six people regrettably.
“Our group recommended that due to the speed that the fire spread in Lakanal House, that building regulations should be reviewed. It’s nearly 11 years since it has been reviewed.
“Successive ministers since 2013 have said they are still looking at it.”
Barwell was pressed on when the Government would carry out a “review of building regulations” in the Commons on October 24 2016.
He replied: “We have not set out any formal plans to review the building regulations as a whole, but we have publicly committed ourselves to reviewing part B following the Lakanal House fire.”
Experts warned about the need to review the regulations again in March this year, but according to the Fire Risk Management Journal: “The Department for Communities and Local Government declined to give a date for the building regulations review, adding that it will place ‘in due course’.”
Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, a former firefighter who chairs Parliament’s Fire Safety & Rescue Group, told the Mirror Online the Government had questions to answer.
He said: “Four years later, we’re still trying to get the government to undertake that review.”
He said successive ministers had said they were “looking at it”, adding the delay had been worsened by responsibility for building regulations being split between three ministers.
He added: “You’d have to ask them why they’ve sat on it for four years.”
After carrying out the inquest into the 2009 tower block fire at Lakanal House in 2013, the Coroner wrote to the Government raising a number of concerns.
These included clarifying if residents in tower blocks should “stay put” or “get out and stay out” in the case of a fire; that sprinklers should be retro-fitted; and simplifying the regulations around what can be changed to properties which might “reduce existing fire protection.”
Another inquest in 2013 – this time into the deaths of two firefighters at Shirley Towers in Southampton in 2010 – also called for sprinklers to be retrofitted into high-rise buildings.
When pressured on this point in the Commons on February 6 2014, Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said: “We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation.”
Another recommendation from the Shirley Towers inquest was that all brackets and clasps used to hold cables in place, including power lines for smoke alarms, should be fire resistant.
The Government rejected this advice, with the chief fire and rescue advisor to the Department of Communities and Local Government, Peter Holland, saying there were “no plans to make the use of heat-resistant cable clips in electrical installations a requirement of building regulations” – according to Inside Housing.
The Department of Communities and Local Government has been contacted for a comment.
SOURCE: Editorial Board
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