Housebuilder & Developer

Publisher Lesley Mayo

James Parker


The Grenfell Tower fire is probably the worst disaster of its kind since WW2, and what will necessarily be an extended period of investigation is unfortunately going to add further misery and trauma. However for the construction industry, and in particular those overseeing the system of regulations that are supposed to govern quality, this tragedy has thrown up a host of very searching questions which they must answer.

For anyone that knows the complexity of Building Regulations and the inspection regime, it should come as less of a surprise than to the general public that all 181 samples have ‘failed’ the BRE’s new fire safety tests.

Yes, the cladding may have been switched for a cheaper alternative that did not offer “limited combustibility” required under Regs, but as commentators have pointed out, this may not give the full picture. I do not wish to pontificate or add more confusion in the wake of such devastation, but it is important that we avoid any knee-jerk conclusions – this needs to also be the approach taken by the investigation. It must leave no stone unturned.

Cladding is being stripped from buildings which were the subject of well- meaning regeneration programmes designed principally to drastically improve thermal performance, and try and make inroads on the UK’s sluggish carbon reduction performance. If we just focus on one very visible construction element, aren’t we missing the bigger picture?


    


 

    

    

What might be the most unforgivable legacy, because it could and should have been addressed, is that the system of regulations which should protect building users have been allowed to grow piecemeal into a web of convoluted and contradictory guidance which is hard for anyone to clearly interpret.

It’s of course true that Building Regulations being vague and/or confusing could be useful for some seeking to achieve cheaper and less appropriate alternatives. Approved Document B has been interpreted by some commentators to mean that the insulation, not the cladding surface itself, is required to be fire retardant however, further clouding the issue. In this way, Grenfell may have ‘complied with regs’ but the cladding could still have been a major part of the reason for the fire spreading so rapidly.

If Approved Document B does not explicitly state that cladding should be of limited combustibility, we should not be surprised that this is interpreted to mean that it doesn’t. Should we have accepted a regulatory framework where ‘desktop studies’ on product performance can be accepted if sufficient test data doesn’t exist on them?


 

The only good thing to come out this appalling tragedy may be the possibility that the regulatory framework might be turned inside out, so the country ends up with a truly robust system that protects its citizens.

Vantage Point Archway Tower © Essential Living go to page 13

James Parker

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