A review of building regulations set up after the Grenfell tragedy has called for a “radical rethink” of the safety system, but has stopped short of proposing a ban on flammable cladding.
Report author Dame Judith Hackitt said indifference and ignorance had led to cost being prioritised over safety.
She said some building firms used ambiguity around the rules to “game the system”, and called for a regulator.
Grenfell survivors had backed a ban on using combustible materials in blocks.
Cladding is thought to have contributed to the rapid spread of fire in west London’s Grenfell Tower last June, in which 71 people died.
‘She didn’t listen’
A subsequent operation identified hundreds of other buildings where cladding failed safety tests.
And the Royal Institute of British Architects called for a ban on flammable cladding, a requirement for sprinklers to be fitted and a second means of escape for high-rise residential buildings.
Shahin Sadafi, chairman of Grenfell United, which represents survivors and the bereaved, said they were “disappointed and saddened that she (Dame Judith) she didn’t listen to us and she didn’t listen to other experts”.
Labour MP David Lammy said it was “unfathomable” that the review had not recommended an outright ban on such materials, while Labour’s Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad said regulating the current system was not the answer.
The independent review, commissioned by the government, has been looking into regulations around the design, construction and management of buildings in relation to fire safety.
‘Ambiguous and unclear’
In her final 156-page report, Dame Judith – a senior engineer who used to chair the Health and Safety Executive – highlighted ignorance about rules governing the industry, and a lack of clarity about who takes responsibility for them.
She said: “Currently regulations and guidance are not always read by those who need to, and when they do the guidance is misunderstood and misinterpreted.”
This was also because such guidance was “ambiguous and unclear”, she said.
“The above issues have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’, caused either through indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice,” she said.
Dame Judith said the process for testing and certifying products was “disjointed, confusing, unhelpful and lacking any sort of transparency”.
But she did not call for a ban on materials capable of burning from tall buildings, saying that prohibiting certain practises would “not address the root causes” of the problems.
Her key findings include:
- Roles and responsibilities for building safety are unclear
- Regulations and guidance were “ambiguous and inconsistent”
- The process that drive compliance with the regulations are “weak and complex”
- Competence (of people in the system) is “patchy”
- Product testing and marketing is “opaque and insufficient”
- Residents’ voices go unheard
She recommended that a “simple and effective mechanism” for driving building safety was needed and called for incentives for the right behaviour and sanctions for poor performance.
But Grenfell United’s Mr Sadafi said: “We need to hear from government a clear promise that these dangerous materials will never be used on homes again.”
Reacting to the report, Mr Lammy said: “It is unthinkable and unacceptable that so many people can die in a disaster like Grenfell and one year on flammable cladding has not been banned.
“I simply fail to see how it is deemed appropriate for any combustible material to be used on any tower block in this country.”
And Labour’s Ms Dent Coat said the review was “a total betrayal”, and called for the government to take action.
“Why are we having to say this? Ban flammable cladding,” she said.
Dame Judith’s appointment to lead the review had been met with some criticism due to her former role as director of the Energy Saving Trust. The organisation promotes insulation containing a foam known as polyisocyanurate (PIR), blamed for fuelling the fire at Grenfell.
But the government said Dame Judith was “an independent and authoritative voice”.
Her review is aimed at making sure similar events do not happen in the future. It is separate to the judge-led inquiry into the Grenfell fire, which will start taking evidence on 21 May.
On Wednesday, the government announced a £400m operation to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations.