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public inquiry resumes on 21st May, with expert witnesses due to start giving evidence in June. The first six months of the inquiry will focus solely on what happened on the night of the fire. Months of further evidence examining why it happened will follow. A timetable for that larger part of the inquiry has yet to be set, but it could run into 2020 according to lawyers involved with it. A mound of confusion has been fanned by

reports on the fire retardant qualities of the cladding panels used, with conflicting statements and reports uncovered from the manufacturer and the different testing systems and regimes in use. It remains unclear if building companies here were aware of the results of the tests which gave the panels very low fire resistant ratings. Across the country various social landlords are

proceeding with works to remove faulty cladding and to install water sprinkler systems in high-rise blocks. But the work is bespoke and carried out to different specifications as the Government has failed to take ownership of the problem and formulate a standard solution. It appears to be waiting on the Hackitt Review to complete before it commits itself. It also does not appear willing to provide funds

for the fire safety works being undertaken and instead Ministers are repeating a mantra that all landlords are responsible for the safety of their buildings. This is not a reassuring approach for the tens of thousands of residents living in tower blocks with similar cladding to that used on Grenfell Tower. An inconsistent response is also emerging in the

private sector where at least one builder, Barratts, has decided to pay for re-cladding work at a high- rise tower it built, but no longer has a direct interest in as it is neither the freeholder, nor providing

management services. Other owners and management service companies appear unwilling to take on the cost of safety works and are hoping that insurers, builders, individual leaseholders or the Government will stump up the hundreds of millions required. During a hearing of the Treasury select

committee, Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, in east London, said only seven out of 160 social housing blocks with flammable cladding similar to that used at Grenfell had so far had it replaced. She added that Ministers were not aware of how many private blocks were similarly affected and their residents should not have to "wait years" before the work is done. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond

replied that social landlords had a duty to ensure their properties were safe and a lack of finance should not prevent urgent safety work from taking place. He said the Housing Ministry might relax council borrowing rules or spending caps to fund repair work. He acknowledged the situation in relation to

private blocks was "more complicated". "I accept it is a challenge. But there is only a certain amount of finance available and diverting public housing funding to leaseholders in private blocks would be a very significant decision."

CREDIBILITY DOUBTS Credibility issues have been raised by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) who along with the Fire Protection Association question whether the fire testing systems used to measure the flammability of various materials are realistic or valid. They have come out and said the tests done in the aftermath of the fire, do not replicate the conditions in the ‘real world’. They say this makes

them inadequate and underestimates the ferocity of real fires. There are also claims that the manufacturers of

panels have been gaming the system, or cheating the tests. This is similar to practices used by car manufacturers in the engine emission testing scandal. This has already led to calls for only non- combustible materials to be used in tower block construction, refurbishment and cladding works. And for the Government to stop using the tests to confirm the fire performance of systems already installed on buildings. Huw Evans, the director general of the ABI, said

the building control system was now “broken”. He added: “This latest research is yet more evidence that fundamental reform is needed to keep our homes and commercial premises safe from fire. It is a matter of urgency that we create the right testing regime that properly replicates real world conditions and keeps pace with building innovation and modern design.” His message was echoed by Lord Gary Porter,

chair of the Local Government Association representing all local authorities across England. Following release of the ABI findings, he said: “Using non-combustible material only would provide clarity to all types of landlords who remain unsure about what they should use to re-clad and insulate their buildings. The tragedy at Grenfell Tower must never be allowed to happen again.” None of this will reassure tower block residents

(tenants and leaseholders), who surely ought to be a priority after suffering almost a year of anguish since the terrible events of last June. It is time for the Government and the new Housing Secretary to step up and play a more prominent leadership role in resolving all of the issues raised by the Grenfell fire.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations has condemned the current “ambiguous and inconsistent” system but has stopped short of calling for a ban on the use of combustible materials in cladding. Instead she says a cultural shift needs to take place to improve safety at every stage from design and construction to on-going management and maintenance, with priority given to the 2,000 to 3,000 "high risk" residential buildings with more than 10 stories. The current system had created a culture where the prime motivation was to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible...“a race to the bottom".

New housing secretary of state appointed

Kent. He replaces Sajid Javid who moved to the Home Office after almost two years in charge of the housing brief. Mr Brokenshire last served in the cabinet as Northern Ireland Secretary between July 2016 and


he new Housing Secretary is James Brokenshire MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, situated between south east London and

January 2018, but stood down in order to receive treatment for lung cancer. A former junior minister in the Home Office, the Right to Rent checks for landlords were brought in under his watch. These controversially require private landlords to check on the immigration status of those they rent homes to. Mr Brokenshire inherits a busy and challenging work agenda including dealing with the aftermath

6 | HMM May 2018 |

of the Grenfell Tower fire, implementing the Hackitt Review, delivering on last year’s Housing White Paper and a stretching programme of 300,000 new homes a year, a variety of changes to the private rented sector and a long delayed Green Paper on social housing. On his appointment, Mr Brokenshire said: “One

of my top priorities is going to be ensuring everyone affected by the Grenfell Tower fire gets the support they need and we learn lessons from the tragedy so something like this can never happen again. I am also looking forward to working with councils across the country by supporting them to deliver quality public services and build strong integrated communities.”

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