Social Housing Speed Read – fire safety after Grenfell Tower
19th June, 2017
In the early hours of 14 June a fire travelled through a Kensington residential tower block known as Grenfell Tower. The cause of the fire is not yet known.
The nation is horrified about this catastrophic loss of life. Speculation on causation, and whether this tragedy might have been avoided, is rife.
We have seen a number of events in recent years placing attention on fire safety, particularly in tower blocks.
A fire spread through five floors of a tower block in Shepherds Bush, west London in August 2016, 200 tenants were evacuated following a fire at Trellick Tower in Kensington and Chelsea and one council was prosecuted in February 2017, following the Lakanal House tower block fire which killed six people in July 2009.
Despite this, the Government has delayed its review of fire safety regulations. The current building regulations governing fire safety (Part B of the Building Regulations) were dubbed virtually impossible to understand by the coroner at the inquest into the Lakanal House fire.
Gavin Barwell, now Theresa May’s new chief of staff, pledged a review of the fire safety rules in October 2016 when he was Housing Minister following the Lakanal House fire. However, any review still remains to be seen.
The All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group has been calling for a review of the building regulations for years with the honorary administrative secretary of the group stating that the regulations “haven’t taken account of the Lakanal House fire inquest, or updated recent accredited research”.
In March 2017, the Department for Communities and Local Government, in responding to calls from experts for the review, stated that it would take place “in due course”. This is now likely to be sooner rather than later following the impact of the Grenfell Tower fire.
Following a visit to the Grenfell Tower site, Theresa May stated that “we need to ensure that this terrible tragedy is properly investigated” and has launched a public inquiry into the disaster.
Prior to this, Sadiq Khan, the Major of London, had called for an inquiry into the incident.
One recommendation from the all-party parliamentary group was fitting sprinklers to tower block buildings with Honorary Administrative Secretary Ronnie King highlighting that there are “4,000 older tower blocks in the UK that don’t have sprinklers” stating that “it’s a fact that people don’t die in sprinkler buildings.”
It is a requirement of new high rise buildings that they are fitted with sprinkler systems. Why older tower blocks such as Grenfell Tower (built in 1974) have not been retrofitted with such systems will be one of many questions that need to be answered over the upcoming months.
Review of fire safety
Following the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, five London councils announced they will be reviewing the fire safety of their tower blocks.
The results of the public inquiry will be much anticipated. Compulsory changes to high rise buildings may well be introduced in a bid to prevent history repeating itself.
If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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