A review into the Grenfell Tower blaze has ruled out an outright ban on combustible cladding and desktop studies, branding the focus on cladding systems as “siloed thinking”.
The report, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, finds that poor oversight in the building industry led to a “race to the bottom”, but fell short of recommending an outright prohibition on materials similar to those which appeared to spread the fatal fire almost a year ago.
The decision defies calls from the Royal Institute of British Architects, politicians and survivors of the blaze, which killed 71 people, who have all urged the government to ban construction materials that burn.
It also comes after Theresa May pledged £400m to strip flammable cladding similar to that found on Grenfell Tower from housing blocks.
Dame Judith, a former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, also declined to recommend a ban on “desktop studies”, which allow materials to be tested without setting them on fire, despite calls for the practice to be stopped by campaigners.
In the face of widespread condemnation, she appeared to backtrack on her views on cladding, telling a Westminster briefing that she would “be supportive” if Housing Secretary James Brokenshire decided to announce an outright ban on flammable cladding.
She said she was “not an expert on Grenfell” but she personally believed that her recommendations would have prevented the use of the dangerous cladding blamed for the spread of the fire.
The decision has prompted outrage, with Labour MP David Lammy branding it a “betrayal and a whitewash” and bereaved relatives saying it is like “selling poisoned water”.
Speaking on the Today Programme just prior to the report’s publication, Dame Judith said she recognised the concerns among survivors, but said cladding was “just one issue”, and that preventing similar disasters in future would require “a whole system change”.
The report notes that ignorance and indifference from building contractors were to blame for the “deep flaws” in the current system, as some undertaking building work are “using the ambiguity of regulations and guidance to game the system”.
But ruling out recommending an outright ban on dangerous cladding, it states: “This is most definitely not just a question of the the specification of cladding systems but of an industry that has not reflected and learned for itself, nor looked to other sectors. This does not mean all buildings are unsafe.”
Dame Judith added: “The debate continues to run about whether or not aluminium cladding is used for thermal insulation, weatherproofing or as an integral part of the fabric, fire safety and integrity of the building. This illustrates the siloed thinking that is part of the problem we mist address.
“It is clear that in this type of debate the basic intent of fire safety has been lost.”
Responding to the review, Clarrie Mendy, whose cousin Mary Mendy and her daughter Khadija Saye were killed in the blaze, told The Independent: “I’m absolutely disgusted and totally shocked. It’s abominable, and very conflicting considering what Theresa May said yesterday. It might be good for the industry, but it’s not good for the people.
“We know the dangers of this cladding; it’s like selling poisoned water, water that’s there to give you cancer. I’ve got children and grandchildren. I’m not going to be here forever but they don’t need to witness another Grenfell anywhere in this Kingdom. I can’t understand the logic behind it.
“If they’re trying to prevent these kinds of things happening nationally, then why is someone promoting this poison?”
Mr Lammy branded the review as a “betrayal and a whitewash”, saying: “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.
“The Grenfell families and the public needed a review that was fearless in standing up to the industry on behalf of all those who lost their lives in Grenfell with recommendations that ensure that an atrocity like Grenfell can never happen again.
“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 I find it unfathomable that this review has not recommended an outright ban of combustible material.”
Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), which has led calls for a review of building regulations and made the case for systemic change, said: “It is disappointing that Dame Judith has stopped short of recommending a ban on combustible materials and the use of desktop studies, both essential measures to improve safety.
“The Government should nevertheless act without delay to introduce a temporary ban on the use of combustible materials on complex and high-rise buildings and until we have a regulatory and testing system which is fit for the 21st Century.
“As the use and misuse of desktop studies has been at the heart of the problem, the LGA also remains clear that the use of desktop studies that attempt to approve safety compliance must also be banned.”
The London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Dan Daly, agreed with Dame Judith’s decision not to recommend an outright ban, saying: “We understand why many would want materials such as ACM cladding banned but the Brigade agrees with Dame Judith Hackitt’s conclusion this would not help safety in the long term.” he said.
“It’s more important that the review concentrates on appropriate testing regimes for building materials, tighter regulations and ensuring that competent people are making decisions about building safety.
“Context is as important as raw materials when it comes to making buildings safe. For example, a type of material used in an low rise office block could be safe but dangerous if used in a high rise block.”
Making a serious of recommendations for buildings of 10 stories or more, the review states that product testing must be made more transparent, with onus on manufacturers to make it clear where their materials can be used safely.
In Pictures: Grenfell Tower after the fire
Under current systems, manufacturers do not need to declare if their products have failed safety checks before they successfully pass, Dame Judith said. She recommended manufacturers should test materials that are critical to high-rise safety every three years.
The report recommends creating a dutyholder who has the fire safety responsibility for each high-rise building, as well as greater engagement with residents to ensure their voices are heard.
It also states that a new Joint Competent Authority should be made up of fire authorities, building standard and health and safety officials, which would oversee and have powers to intervene when concerned about safety issues.