Addressing the past to build a safer future

Addressing the past to build a safer future


A grim anniversary arrived over the weekend. It has now been three years since the Grenfell Tower fire, where 72 people lost their lives. The images of this fire reverberated around the world, and the fall out has been immense, sending shockwaves throughout the construction industry.

Since then, despite promises from Government and outcry from residents, only slightly more than a third of the 459 buildings over 18 metres with ACM cladding have been remediated, while a further 1,700 high-risk buildings with non-ACM cladding also require urgent remediation.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee laid bare the failure of Government to address this issue in their recent report on the progress of remediation when they said, “Three years since the Grenfell Tower fire, to still have 2,000 high risk residential buildings with dangerous cladding is deeply shocking and completely unacceptable.

While the announcement by Government of a new £1 billion Building Safety Fund was welcomed, the Select Committee and others say it will not be sufficient to remediate all 1,700 buildings with combustible non-ACM cladding above 18 metres. This fund will only cover about 600 buildings. Far more must be done to address this issue by Government.

Every person in the UK should feel safe where they live. They should be able to trust in the expertise of the architects, designers, and builders, and the strength of the UK’s regulatory regime to create buildings which will perform. Another failure, as we saw at Grenfell, should never happen again, and this means not just remediating existing buildings, but improving the system as a whole.

At the Timber Trade Federation, we have been supportive of the work of Government to create a safer building system. However, we remain firmly in line with the Hackett Review that any new system must be outcomes based – prescriptive rules and complex guidance are poor policy devices.

The Government has been looking to lower the height threshold for their ban on combustible materials from 18 to 11 metres. But as stated in this report, there are 100,000 buildings in this category. How will the Government address buildings identified as high risk in this category? Policy makers and politicians must perceive the metaphorical Russian Doll.

Clearly height, while a significant factor, is not enough to judge the safety of a building – rather policy makers must develop with industry a clear risk matrix which avoids inconsistency. This work is essential. A transparently applied risk matrix will benefit both existing buildings and those we build in the future. It might also help arrest spiraling insurance premiums seen by some building owners.

In the interim, I encourage all our members to speak up and against unsafe building practices. To speak in support of residents in unsafe buildings. And to ensure that every product you sell is clearly labelled and understood by the market.