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12-06-20

Grenfell – three years on: NFCC ‘frustrated’ at number of unsafe buildings

Ahead of the third anniversary of the devastating Grenfell Tower fire, the Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Roy Wilsher’s thoughts remain with the families of the 72 people who lost their lives, and all those who continue to be affected by this unthinkable tragedy.

Despite it happening three years ago, 160 residential blocks have still not started to remove the ACM cladding systems – similar to that on Grenfell Tower. 

It is ‘wholly unacceptable’ that people are still living in dangerously clad buildings.

Roy Wilsher

 

While NFCC welcomed the additional £1 billion government funding for the removal of cladding, it warns cost should not be a barrier to people’s safety and if necessary, this fund should be increased.

A recent Select Committee highlighted that the removal of dangerous cladding would cost more than the £1bn fund.

NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher has repeatedly stated it is ‘wholly unacceptable’ that people are still living in dangerously clad buildings.

In some cases, building owners are not doing enough to support residents, with some leaseholders paying unacceptable fees for safety measures, which were meant to be temporary.

NFCC has made it clear to government that while some progress has been made, change has not happened quickly enough; fundamental reform of building safety must happen at a faster pace and government should now commit to a clear timetable and date for the removal of unsafe cladding from buildings. 

The government recently said there was an ‘ambition’ for the removal of cladding at all sites to begin by the end of the year, but at this time no deadline for completion could be committed to.

Mr Wilsher commented: “We want people to feel safe in their homes through better legislation, regulation and clear lines of responsibility. We need to make sure we do not see another tragedy of this scale unfold.

“The situation has been exacerbated by COVID-19 as it has delayed some of the remediation of dangerous cladding. People are spending more time in their homes, fuelling further anxiety and impacting on their day-to-day lives, denying them their right to feel safe.”

Mr Wilsher also pointed out that there are ‘limitations’ to the role Fire and Rescue Services can play within the current framework, commenting: “We welcome the intent of the Fire Safety Bill to conclude that the Fire Safety Order applies to external walls systems (EWS), including cladding and balconies.

“EWS has not previously been included as part of an audit or as part of building control consultations. Such work has always been based on the assumption that the building would be built correctly, under building regulations.

“This new bill will hopefully address one part of a very complex problem, with barriers remaining in other parts of the system. Wholesale reform of building safety is needed, and we look forward to the Building Safety Bill being released for pre-legislative scrutiny in due course.

NFCC is also concerned that despite the government committing to undertake research into emergency evacuations, the Government’s ‘Stay Put’ technical group has only met once since it was set up, that was in December last year. 

NFCC and London Fire Brigade both formally wrote to government in August 2019 – following a number of informal attempts – to raise concerns about the lack of properly funded and dedicated research in this complex and challenging area.

It was set up to oversee funded research on the evacuation of high-rise buildings from a design, management and operational perspective and is key to meeting part of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations, published in October last year.

Stay Put strategies are a principle of building design selected by designers and architects and governed by building regulations and approved design guidance – not a fire service policy.

Notes:

  • NFCC has accepted the principles of the Grenfell inquiry Phase 1 recommendations and is leading the national work of fire services, including: updates to fire service National Operational Guidance for firefighting in tall buildings; and setting up the Building Safety Team which is advising and informing Government on its Building Safety programme and associated legislation.
  • These actions are critical for both resident safety and the safety of firefighters who respond to these fires.

NFCC continue to work hard to make homes safer places to live, including: 

  • Helping to keep residents safe, by coordinating information about buildings with unsafe ACM cladding.
  • Providing advice and support to the Independent Expert Advisory Panel, established by Government
  • Publishing centrally coordinated guidance on temporary simultaneous evacuation strategies for buildings with an unacceptable level of fire risk, produced for the NFCC in collaboration with MHCLG, sector experts and other stakeholders
  • Providing robust advice and challenge from NFCC fire safety experts into Government reviews examining how to make buildings safer, including the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety by Dame Judith Hackitt
  • Consistently advocated for improvements to the law to ensure that buildings are built and refurbished safely to begin with. NFCC has called for changes to the Building Safety Regime, design guidance in Approved Document B, sprinkler requirements, and reviews of British Standards

 

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