The Hackitt review into building regulations and fire safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire has been met by outrage.
Dame Judith Hackitt’s report, published on Thursday, called for a “wholesale change of culture” on fire safety.
But it failed to recommend an outright ban on the use of flammable cladding. Shahin Sadafi from Grenfell United survivors’ group said, “When we met Dame Judith Hackitt we asked her for an outright ban on combustible cladding.
“We are disappointed and saddened that she didn’t listen to us and she didn’t listen to other experts.”
Labour MP David Lammy branded the review a “betrayal and a whitewash”.
In response Tory housing minister James Brockenshire announced a consultation into banning similar materials to those used on Grenfell Tower.
The news on Thursday came after Theresa May announced the Tories would set aside £400 million to strip tower blocks with similar cladding. That’s likely to be nowhere near enough—151 blocks still require work and the cost of removing cladding from just 10 in Camden came to £50 million.
Nevertheless, the announcement is a climbdown from the Tories’ previous position. What’s clear is that the Tories are extremely vulnerable to pressure—May and Brokenshire’s announcements show that.
Hackitt conceded she would “be supportive” if Brokenshire declared an outright ban on flammable cladding.
The review also “does not ban assessments in lieu of tests”—the now-infamous “desktop studies”.
“Desktop study” safety tests of building materials are based on the results of previous tests on similar products. They use the BS-8414 test devised by the British Standards Institution (BSI).
But these tests were revealed to be faulty by the Fire Protection Association last month.
The report claims it doesn’t recommend banning desktop studies because some products are too large to be tested in the Building Research Establishment’s facilities. But it could have recommended an immediate blanket ban on these tests for all products that are not too large.
Now the Tories are getting the BSI “to produce a new British Standard”. Once this is introduced, “following it would be the expectation.”
It’s not clear if it will be a requirement. Other parts of the report step back from making demands on the government. It’s possible that Hackitt pitched the report for what she thought the Tories would agree to, not for the changes that need to happen.
She said the regulatory system is “a broken system and banning cladding on its own is not going to fix it.”
She offered no explanation of why fixing the system couldn’t include banning the use of cladding.
Other recommendations included in the review are that residents should be consulted over safety decisions and to introduce an “outcomes-based” approach to the regulation.
When asked if someone would already be in jail if her recommendations were in place at the time of the fire, Hackitt said, “I expect that to be the case”.
Some of the report’s recommendations would be welcome changes. But whether they are implemented by the Tories remains to be seen.
The pressure can’t let up—the protests and Silent Walks must continue alongside the inquiry set to open on Monday.