Where are we after Grenfell?

'Major' reforms package announced as Housing Secretary issues warning

Where are we after Grenfell?

Construction & Engineering

By Terry Gangcuangco

“This government is committed to bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation.”

Those were the words of Robert Jenrick MP – Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government – when he announced what was described as a “major package of reforms” which comes more than two years after the tragic Grenfell Tower fire.

Updating the House of Commons on building safety, Jenrick asserted: “We took action to address the fire safety risks identified following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and in the autumn we committed to adopting the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry Phase One report in full.

“We will shortly be publishing our response to the Phase One report and there’s a full debate scheduled tomorrow (January 21) for the House to discuss this important issue at length. The focus of this statement will be on the wider programme of building safety reforms and the work that I’m leading to ensure that everyone is safe and feels safe in their own home.”

Part of the announced measures is the creation of a building safety regulator, the full establishment of which requires legislation. In the meantime, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will immediately begin to form the new regulator in shadow form.   

The transition into the new building safety regime will be overseen by a board chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt, the former HSE chair commissioned by the government to conduct an independent review of building regulations and fire safety.

Other changes include the appointment of a construction expert tasked with reviewing remediation timescales for buildings with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding. The government has also launched a consultation into whether the height threshold in the current combustible cladding ban should be lowered.

Last week the Housing Secretary and Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Grenfell Tower fire survivors in Downing Street. The Prime Minister has also written to Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the chairman of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry, to update him on the government’s response to Phase One.

Meanwhile, at the House of Commons Chamber, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing John Healey questioned why there remains 315 high-rise blocks with the same Grenfell-style cladding.

“I never thought I would be standing here two and a half years later facing a Secretary of State, the third Secretary of State who still cannot say that all the necessary action has been taken and that a fire like Grenfell cannot happen again in Britain,” Healey went on to state.

“Directly after the fire the then Prime Minister promised on behalf of the Conservative government and I quote, ‘Landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe buildings. We cannot, and we will not ask people to live in unsafe homes.’ Yet thousands of people continue to live in unsafe homes, condemned to do so by this government’s failure on all fronts after Grenfell.”

Perhaps it’s Jenrick’s warning that would move the needle.

“Unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks, I will publicly name building owners where action to remediate unsafe ACM cladding has not started,” said the MP. “There can be no more excuses for delay; I’m demanding immediate action.”

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