Industry news

Fatal shortcomings at Grenfell Tower revealed in leaked report ahead of public inquiry resumption

have been prevented, as a catalogue of errors were made in the block’s refurbishment project. The report will inevitably increase the pressure


on the Police and Crown Prosecution Service to pursue manslaughter charges against various individuals and firms or bodies associated with work on the high-rise block. But it also raises serious questions about the actions of Kensington & Chelsea Council, their Tenant Management Organisation and the Government, who failed to implement changes to building regulations and fire safety standards after six people died in a fire at Lakanal House in 2009, just a few miles across the capital in Southwark. The public inquiry into the Grenfell fire resumes

this month with, it seems, precious little progress having been made in the past 11 months. There are tenants of the tower block still waiting to be permanently rehoused, while residents of similar high-rise blocks wait for their homes to be made safe. Doubts have been raised about the reliability of the Government enforced testing regime, and so far Ministers have failed to find funding for safety works or to agree any kind of common standards with landlords of other tower blocks in the public, social and private sectors. The leaked report was written by experts at the

Building Research Establishment and commissioned by the Metropolitan Police. A copy was sent to the Evening Standard and its publication shocked Grenfell residents, council staff and housing professionals over the scale of the problems that were uncovered. A spokesperson for the survivors’ group, Grenfell United, said its findings were shocking and showed “an industry that is broken”. There was a litany of deficiencies in the £10m

refurbishment project of the 24-storey block including a widespread failure to meet building regulations. The report shows in detail how the original concrete building was turned from a safe structure into a tinderbox by the refurbishment between 2014 and 2016.

DAMNING FINDINGS It says the fire on 14 June would not have spread beyond its source in Flat 16 and would not have

leaked report into the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire has revealed the shocking findings that all 72 deaths could

claimed a single life, if the original facade of the building had not been re-clad. (71 residents died on the night and in the immediate aftermath, with a further resident falling victim some months later.) The 2014-16 refurbishment failed in several fundamental areas to meet fire safety standards set out in building regulations — known as Approved Document B. Taken together, these areas proved critical for the rapid spread of flames across the length and breadth of the building. The report is damning in its findings and will

inevitably lead to calls for fundamental actions to safeguard tens of thousands of residents of other tower blocks and ensure further potential disasters are prevented from happening. At present, many tower blocks across the country are being watched around the clock by fire wardens, but this is costly and cannot go on indefinitely. The report also puts significant pressure on the Government to ensure no stone is unturned in efforts to change industry practices and to end a cost saving culture that saw corners cut and people’s lives put at risk. The report identifies five significant breaches of

building regulations that appear directly implicated in the loss of life:

• Large gaps between the building and cladding that fanned the fire;

• Gaps in window frame surrounds that helped flames spread;

• The insulation used was combustible and spread the fire;

• Panels had a flammable core that also spread the fire; and

• Many of the front doors to flats lacked door closers, or had faulty closers.

The BRE report notes that individual breaches

relating to the cladding system assume far greater importance when “considered in combination as opposed to when they occur in isolation”. In addition the report says there was only room for just “a single fire engine” on the hard standing at the base of the east side of the tower, while firefighting facilities were “deficient”, due to poor access and the lack of a wet rising main. Landscaping around the base of the tower prevented other fire engines getting close enough to it. BRE cites two other breaches of building

regulations — the absence of a sprinkler system and

© Natalie Oxford

the single stairwell being 8cm too narrow. However, it does not necessarily regard these weaknesses as directly responsible for loss of life. It adds that the stairwell would have been “difficult and expensive to change as part of any refurbishment”. Meanwhile a separate Police test conducted on one of the fire doors recovered from Grenfell Tower found that it could only withstand a fire for 15 minutes – just half the 30 minutes it was meant to last for. After the BRE report was leaked, a spokeperson

for Grenfell United said the findings were not surprising. “It was clear to us the refurbishment was shoddy and second rate. We raised concerns time and time again. We were not just ignored but bullied to keep quiet. That a refurbishment could make our homes dangerous and unsafe shows the contractors put profit before lives.” It is hard to argue or disagree with those words in the light of what we now know.

INQUIRY RESUMES Further tests on the fire resistance of doors and lifts, and the safety of the gas installation were being carried out after the leaked report was written. The Continued on next page...

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May has promised £400 million of new money to pay for the cost of removing dangerous cladding from council tower blocks and its replacement. However, she made no mention of funding the removal of similar cladding from privately owned tower blocks, nor for the installation of water sprinkler systems in older high rise blocks. | HMM May 2018 | 5

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