A review of building regulations set up after the Grenfell tragedy has called for a “radical rethink” of the safety system, but has stopped short of proposing a ban on flammable cladding.
Report author Dame Judith Hackitt said indifference and ignorance had led to cost being prioritised over safety.
She said some building firms used ambiguity around the rules to “game the system”, and called for a regulator.
Grenfell survivors had backed a ban on using combustible materials in blocks.
Cladding is thought to have contributed to the rapid spread of fire in west London’s Grenfell Tower last June, in which 71 people died.
‘She didn’t listen’
A subsequent operation identified hundreds of other buildings where cladding failed safety tests.
And the Royal Institute of British Architects called for a ban on flammable cladding, a requirement for sprinklers to be fitted, and a second means of escape for high-rise residential buildings.
Shahin Sadafi, chairman of Grenfell United, which represents survivors and the bereaved, said they were “disappointed and saddened that she (Dame Judith) she didn’t listen to us and she didn’t listen to other experts”.
Labour’s shadow housing minister Sarah Jones told the BBC that the review was a “huge wasted opportunity” and that Dame Judith’s recommendations did not go far enough.
Labour MP David Lammy said it was “unfathomable” that the review had not recommended an outright ban on combustible materials, while Labour’s Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad said regulating the current system was not the answer.
The independent review, commissioned by the government, looked into regulations around the design, construction and management of buildings in relation to fire safety.
The final 156-page report found that:
- Roles and responsibilities for building safety are unclear
- Regulations and guidance are “ambiguous and inconsistent” and are “misunderstood and misinterpreted”
- There is ignorance about the rules governing the industry
- The process that drives compliance with the regulations are “weak and complex”
- Competence (of people in the system) is “patchy”
- The process for testing and certifying products is “disjointed, confusing, unhelpful and lacking any sort of transparency”
- Product testing and marketing is “opaque and insufficient”
- Residents’ voices go unheard
Dame Judith – a senior engineer who used to chair the Health and Safety Executive – said: “The above issues have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’, caused either through indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice.”
But Dame Judith did not call for a ban on materials capable of burning from tall buildings, saying that prohibiting certain practices would “not address the root causes” of the problems.
She recommended that a “simple and effective mechanism” for driving building safety was needed and called for incentives for the right behaviour and tougher penalties for those who breach regulation.
But Grenfell United’s Mr Sadafi said: “We need to hear from government a clear promise that these dangerous materials will never be used on homes again.”
Khadijah Mamudu, daughter of a Grenfell survivor, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that the review was “absolutely ridiculous”.
“She’s stopped short of doing the most important thing – banning them (cladding),” she said. “People can’t sleep at night people are scared at night. How does this make any sense?”
Reacting to the report, Mr Lammy said: “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.
“I simply fail to see how it is deemed appropriate for any combustible material to be used on any tower block in this country.”
Labour’s Ms Dent Coad said the review was “a total betrayal”, and called for the government to take action.
“Why are we having to say this? Ban flammable cladding,” she said.
And Lord Porter, Local Government Association chairman, said it was “disappointing” that the review stopped short of recommending a ban on combustible materials.
He also questioned the lack of a ban on “desktop studies” – which the report instead recommends are significantly restricted.
Desktop studies are a method of assessment used if a developer wishes to follow plans similar to a setup which has already been fire-tested.
Lord Porter said the government should “act without delay” to introduce a temporary ban “until we have a regulatory and testing system which is fit for the 21st Century”.
In response to the criticism, Dame Judith said she was open to seeing combustible cladding banned in future.
“I have tried to fix the system, irrespective of what the next problem might be, not just the problem with cladding,” she said.
Dame Judith’s appointment to lead the review had been met with some criticism due to her former role as director of the Energy Saving Trust. The organisation promotes insulation containing a foam known as polyisocyanurate (PIR), blamed for fuelling the fire at Grenfell.
But the government said Dame Judith was “an independent and authoritative voice”.
Her review is aimed at making sure similar events do not happen in the future. It is separate to the judge-led inquiry into the Grenfell fire, which will start taking evidence on 21 May.
On Wednesday, the government announced a £400m operation to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks owned by councils and housing associations.