Four separate government ministers were repeatedly told the government’s fire regulations were not keeping people safe, with the last warnings just two months before the Grenfell Tower fire
A dozen letters sent by the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, leaked to BBC One’s Panorama, show that fire experts had been concerned about the safety of tower blocks – including the use of combustable cladding – for years.
The group wrote to successive ministers from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), including then-housing minister Gavin Barwell last September, urging them to review the fire safety regulations following the 2009 Lakanal House fire in Southwark, in which six people died.
According to the BBC, the parliamentary group wrote in a March 2014 letter: ‘Surely… when you already have credible evidence to justify updating … the guidance … which will lead to saving of lives, you don’t need to wait another three years in addition to the two already spent since the research findings were updated, in order to take action?
Can we really afford to wait for another tragedy to occur before we amend this weakness?
Letter from Parliamentary fire safety group to housing minister in 2014
‘As there are estimated to be another 4,000 older tower blocks in the UK, without automatic sprinkler protection, can we really afford to wait for another tragedy to occur before we amend this weakness?’
In a December 2015 letter, the group warned Conservative MP James Wharton, a DCLG minister at the time, of the danger of combustable external cladding on tower blocks.
A number of fire safety experts have argued that the aluminium composite cladding installed at Grenfell Tower, which was reported to have a combustable polyethylene core, was partly responsible for the fire spreading so quickly.
‘Today’s buildings have a much higher content of readily available combustible material. Examples are timber and polystyrene mixes in structure, cladding and insulation,’ the letter read.
‘This fire hazard results in many fires because adequate recommendations to developers simply do not exist. There is little or no requirement to mitigate external fire spread.’
The all-party group wrote to the the then housing minister Gavin Barwell in September last year, who had committed to reviewing part B of the Building Regulations, which covers fire safety, in October 2016. The government had been promising to review the fire safety regulations since 2013, following recommendations by the coroner from the March 2013 inquest into the Lakanal House fire.
Barwell is now Theresa May’s chief of staff after he lost his seat in the recent general election.
In April this year, Barwell wrote to the group to ‘acknowledge that producing a statement on Building Regulations has taken longer than I had envisaged’.
The group responded by saying it had been ‘given a similar response by three successive ministers since 2010’, adding that it ‘is now time to listen to what the fire sector is saying’.