Ministers failed to act on the clear lessons of the 2009 Lakanal House fire according to high-rise fire safety expert Sam Webb
The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower could and should have been prevented thanks to the lessons of a similar disaster in the capital eight years’ ago, a leading fire expert has told the AJ.
Sam Webb, a retired architect who investigated the fatal 2009 Lakanal House fire in Southwark and acted as an expert witness to the families affected at the inquest, said that Lakanal House also featured cladding which caught fire (pictured below).
That fire claimed six lives including three children and was previously the UK’s worst fire in a postwar block of flats.
Webb, who sits on the Parliamentary All Party Fire & Rescue Group and also investigated the infamous 1968 Ronan Point tower collapse, said that cladding panels underneath windows at Lakanal House had caught fire within four-and-a-half minutes.
Of Grenfell Tower, he said: ‘This tragedy was entirely predictable, sadly.
‘What we saw at Lakanal House should have been enough to make people think about what was going on with the outside of our buildings in terms of cladding.’
Webb also questioned why the government had not updated Part B of the Building Regulations covering fire risk in tall buildings and why sprinkler systems had been made mandatory in new build towers but not in refurbished ones.
Lakanal House fire
‘We [the All Party Group] have been trying to get ministers to make sure we have sprinkler systems on refurbished as well as new towers but this has fallen on deaf ears,’ he said. ‘We provide people with water in their homes, why can’t we provide sprinkler systems – it’s not rocket science.
‘Ron Dobson, the then chief fire officer of the London Fire Brigade, concluded at the end of the Lakanal House inquest that these would have saved those who died.
Last autumn, then housing minister Gavin Barwell - who lost his seat at the general election and was this week appointed as Theresa May’s new chief of staff - announced a review into Part B of the Building Regulations 2010.
However, the review has not yet begun and in March, a spokesperson for the DCLG said the review would be undertaken ‘in due course’.
In 2009, a BBC London investigation found that hundreds of tower blocks across London had not been properly assessed for fire safety.
Using FOI, the investigation found that councils had failed to fire check at least 253 social housing high-rises – something that constitutes a criminal offence.
Requests sent to 32 boroughs showed at least eight councils had failed to make proper checks.
Hannah Mansell, chair of the Passive Fire Protection Forum, trustee of the Children’s Burns Trust and spokesperson for the BWF’s Fire Door Safety Week campaign
We have a right to be very angry at the news about Grenfell Tower. I regularly sit in meetings with fire safety professionals, and their fury and frustration at the inaction of local councils and social landlords is palpable.
We have been warning about the risks of a fire like this for years. ‘What we need to get people to take notice is a huge fire in a tower block’ they say. Well, here it is.
’There’s an endemic fire safety problem in this type of housing stock’
There is an endemic fire safety problem in this type of housing stock. I have walked around tower blocks documenting and filming the fire safety breaches. I’ve seen flats without fire doors, no emergency lighting or signage on fire doors and escape routes, broken fire rated glass, wedged-open fire doors, poor fire stopping around service hatches that breach compartmentation, no smoke seals in fire doors, rubbish and combustible material left in the common areas, and no information displayed on the specific fire plan of the building.
But that information appears to fall on deaf ears. Action must be taken now to address these issues.