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​Government is not ignoring RIBA over Grenfell, says communities secretary

Grenfell tower fire crop
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Communities secretary Sajid Javid has said the government is ‘in touch’ with the RIBA for its advice following the Grenfell Tower fire

Javid said he wanted more input from all parts of the industry in the expert panel set up after the Grenfell Tower fire – including from the institute and architects.

In June, the profession reacted with anger at the government’s failure to include any architects on the expert fire-safety panel established after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Although the government said the panel would ‘draw in wider technical expertise as necessary to inform their advice’, there is still no expert representation from the RIBA.

But Javid told the AJ: ‘When we put the panel together on day one, the immediate priority was fire safety there and then, but since then we have started changing the composition of the panel.

‘One is to get more expertise from all parts of the industry on there. And we are very much in touch with RIBA and other architects and experts in that field to make sure that we are getting input.’

Javid was speaking to the AJ following a Conservative Party fringe event, ‘The Country we Want to be: Pathways to Prosperity’, at which he was a guest.

An institute spokesperson confirmed: ‘The RIBA is working closely with the government and the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, directly as an institute, as a member of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and through the Industry Response Group (IRG).’

The IRG was set up in July, made up of government officials and those from the construction industry, will complement the work done by the expert advisory panel and provide advice on the construction sector following the Grenfell Tower fire. 

’In addition to our regular contact, in writing and in person, with government ministers, we have also met with and are in regular contact with senior civil service officials,’ the spokesperson added.

The spokesperson also said that, as well as responding to the consultation on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry terms of reference, the institute will submit evidence to the call for evidence for the independent review of the building regulations. 

The expert panel, headed by ex-London Fire Brigade commissioner Ken Knight, has been aided by three ‘core members’ of the group: Peter Bonfield, chief executive of the BRE; Roy Wilsher, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council; and Amanda Clack, president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and a partner at Ernst & Young.

The AJ also questioned the communities secretary over the importance of design in the government’s housing policy, informing him that many architects feel marginalised in building teams, which was highlighted by the Grenfell Tower fire.

Javid said: ‘Of course design is hugely important and I’ve already found in so many neighbourhoods and communities that – if they feel they can have more of a say in design and that input – then they will be more accepting of development.’

He continued: ‘For me, Grenfell Tower has opened up a whole host of issues that I think ideally … should have been looked at before; for whatever reason they weren’t. Since Grenfell Tower we’ve found some very serious problems in other social housing as well.’

The communities secretary then highlighted the ongoing problems at Ledbury Estate in south London. The four 13-storey blocks have had no gas since August, when Southwark Council turned it off over structural concerns revealed following during post-Grenfell safety checks.

He said that ‘architects and design stuff’ would form part of his recently announced social housing review.

Javid added that the independent review of the Building Regulations, led by Judith Hackitt, was ‘very likely to come up with recommendations around design issues as well’.

Describing housing as the ‘biggest domestic issue facing us’, Javid also said the government would focus on the points set out in the housing white paper last year, including ‘major planning reforms’ and ‘diversifying in terms of the types of homes – ‘so more modular build, custom build, even self-build’.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Chris Roche

    It would appear the omission of RIBA representation on key industry reviews is being repeated in a current Government review of Planning Legislation - The Raynsford Review. I came across the Papers released in connection with the Review and was shocked that they contained no reference to Architects, merely to consultants. I brought this alarming situation to the attention of the Architects Journal as it appeared RIBA were again silent on this critical issue. The Review panel are currently taking evidence from users of the Planning System with a view to reform and if RIBA remains silent another generational opportunity will be lost. I urge all concerned Architects to speak out - we owe it to society as well as to our clients.

    Chris Roche / ARB
    Founder 11.04 Architects

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