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Lack of action over ‘deeply flawed’ fire regulations is failing public, says RIBA

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The government’s lack of action over ‘deeply flawed’ Building Regulations is failing the public and ‘does not honour’ the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, according to the RIBA

Responding to a government call for evidence on its review of fire-safety regulations, the institute’s expert group on fire safety said current guidelines were outdated.

The group’s chair, Jane Duncan, said: ‘We simply cannot allow buildings to continue to be built to regulations and guidance that everyone, including the government, acknowledges are deeply flawed.

‘20 months on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, to continue with more consultation but not enough action fails the public and does not honour the victims.’

The group called for new requirements, such as retrofitting sprinklers in existing residential buildings above 18m, and for the government to prioritise the introduction of centrally addressable fire alarms.

It also called for at least two staircases in new multiple-occupancy residential buildings, as required already in offices and hotels, as an alternative means of escape.

It raised concerns that the existing regulations – known as Approved Document B – were developed assuming that measures to resist the spread of fire would be 100 per cent effective and the ‘stay put’ policy could be relied on.

‘As the Grenfell Tower tragedy illustrates, if a fire spreads rapidly, a reliance on the “stay put” policy can be devastating,’ it said.

Last July the government announced it would carry out a technical review of Approved Document B and in the autumn it launched a call for evidence, which closed last week (March 1), inviting views on how it could be improved.

Submissions by the RIBA and others will be used to set the agenda, terms of reference and programme for the wider review.

Late last year the government banned the use of combustible materials in new residential tower blocks above 18m, as well as in schools, care homes and hospitals.

The new legislation, lobbied for by campaigners and groups including the RIBA, came into effect last December. It prohibits all materials with a European fire rating of less than A1 or A2 in the external wall construction of buildings above the height threshold. 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Didn't the Lakanal House fire tragedy in the summer of 2009 demonstrate that 'a reliance on the "stay put" policy can be devastating'?

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  • In the Dispatches programme, “Grenfell-Did the Fire Brigade Fail?” a member of a fire crew that attended on the night, spoke anonymously to say that they were being asked to deal with a situation that should not have been allowed to arise.

    There is no way of preparing for a fire such as that which engulfed Grenfell Tower within 30 minutes. Fire fighters are rigorously trained and put their lives potentially on the line every day to save others. They have the right to expect that :-
    • buildings are responsibly designed and maintained to ensure 1hour compartmentalisation between dwellings, as was formerly the case before the so-called “bon-fire of the regulations”
    • that there is no expectation that they can effectively operate within a scenario in which buildings have been swathed in solid petroleum, ensuring that the occupants are incinerated.

    The real scandals are:-
    • that there are still hundreds of multi-storey buildings similarly clad, waiting to cause multiple deaths, while the chief executive of Arconic, which made the polyethylene filled panels that emitted poisonous cyanide gas when burned, can nonchalantly declare that his company “does not believe that it was the cause of the accident”.
    • the failure of successive governments to implement the recommended changes to building regulation following each of 5 major fires, the earliest being the Summerland, Isle on Man fire of 1973. The first responsibility of any Government should be to maintain public safety.
    • The failure of Kensington and Chelsea building control officer to identify the defects in the cladding details before the contract was let.

    It is all too convenient for government, both central and local, to set up the fire brigade as the culprits for a disaster which has been many years in the making, resulting from their criminal negligence.

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