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RIBA president calls for ‘urgent public inquiry’ into Grenfell Tower fire

Grenfell tower fire

Jane Duncan says an urgent public inquiry into the cause of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in west London is needed

The 24-storey building in north Kensington was engulfed in flames yesterday morning, leaving at least 17 people dead, 20 in a critical condition in hospital and many others unaccounted for.

The concrete tower, which had only one fire escape staircase, was completed in 1974 and had recently undergone an £8.6 million refurbishment overseen by Studio E Architects.

RIBA president Jane Duncan described the fire at Grenfell Tower as an ‘awful tragedy’, and said her thoughts were with the ‘victims, all those affected and the heroes who responded’.

She added: ‘Speculation about the fire’s cause or spread, prior to a thorough investigation, would be inappropriate.

’[However] fire and people safety are absolutely critical in all buildings, which is why there must be an urgent public inquiry to fully understand how this tragedy occurred.’ 

Yesterday’s fire came eight years after a devastating fire at Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, south London, claimed the lives of six people including three children. 

Last autumn, then housing minister Gavin Barwell – who lost his seat in last week’s 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 covering fire safety.

However, this review has still not begun. A spokesperson for the DCLG said in March that the review would be undertaken ‘in due course’.

At the time the Fire Risk Management journal reported that experts were concerned that the delay could be ’endangering tower blocks throughout the UK’.

The journal also reported that Ronnie King, honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group, had warned that the current building regulations ‘[hadn’t] taken account of the Lakanal House fire inquest, or updated recent accredited research’.

Last night Prime Minister Theresa May promised a ’proper investigation’ into the incident, adding that if any lessons are to be learned they will be, and ‘action will be taken’.

Alison Brooks pays tribute to Grenfell Tower victims at the AJ100 Awards

Alison Brooks, who was the keynote speaker at last night’s AJ100 Awards and won the contribution to the profession award, started her speech by acknowledging the ’tragic fire and the loss of life at the Grenfell Tower’.   

‘It’s the most sobering reminder imaginable of the responsibility that we architects and all construction industry professionals bear,’ she added. 

‘I hope this terrible lesson will increase the industry’s resolve to ensure that the procurement, the insulation, the testing, the certification of fire protection systems of our buildings are never ever compromised – we don’t evade responsibility.’


Readers' comments (4)

  • The RIBA President is correct to call for a speedy Public Inquiry into the disastrous Glenfeld Tower fire which has resulted in so much tragedy but there is an immediate lesson to be learnt and applied without an Inquiry which will take month or even years to reach conclusions and the lessens learnt applied to ensure as far as humanly possible this sort of catastrophic event cannot happen again.
    It is clear from what is known already as a fact. The policy if there was a fire this would be confined to flat in which it had started and dealt with by the fire fighters. Residents should stay in their flats. But it appears there was no fire alarm system in the block so residents were not aware there there was a fire. If the fire had been retained and dealt with by the fire fighters - who arrived in 6 mins - this would probably not have created a major problem.
    But in this case the fire instead of been confined to the flat where it had started spread with amazing and unprecedented spread and ferocity throughout virtually the whole block. Firstly although some if not all residents would know there was a fire there was no management procedure to advise residents of the immediate real danger and that they should use the smoke protected routes to leave the building AND NOT STAY IN THEIR FLATS. As a result many families were trapped in their flats with fatal results.
    So all tower blocks must have a proper fire alarm system, and there must be an organised system for telling them to leave the building as soon as the fire has not been retained in the flat where it has been started.I see every reason for the RIBA to make a policy statement to government now on those lines. Owen Luder CBE PPRIBA

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  • Can you establish if any ARB registered architect was involved in the refurb? While Rydon assert that the design and installation complied with regulations, was it in conformance with contract specifications? It is hard to contemplate that any architect would be so stupid as not to stipulate INCOMBUSTIBLE insulation in the composite panel
    = https://www.arconic.com/aap/europe/en/info_page/incombustible_A2_core_aluminium_composite_panels_facades_roof.asp
    given the case law in examples such as PKS architects Vs Sahib Foods in 2003.
    Nor is it yet clear that the refurbishment works obtained a Completion Certificate from Kensignton & Chelsea Building Control

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  • Reports suggest that everything was in compliance with Building Regulations, yet the screen visible on the Council's own Building Control website indicates the 'full plans' application decision/approval date is 'not available' and the status is 'Completed, not approved'. So how was a completion certificate issued before residents moved in and who signed it off?

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  • and therefore of the completion certificate isn't approved, was the building INSURED at the time of the fire? Mr Paget-Brown could be in for a hefty surcharge.
    Jane Duncan yet again flies her tory colours echoing calls for public enquiry, while the public demand an inquest - no handwringing, kicking in to touch, or wriggling out of criminal investigation, as the solicitor for the Lakanal House families Sophie Khan makes clear to Kirsty Wark.
    Inappropriate speculation Jane ? watch the video over and over until you can make an informed opinion for yourself.

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