James Brokenshire is the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG). Near the top of his in-tray will be the health and safety of high-rise buildings in the light of the Grenfell disaster.
The all-party HCLG Committee has been having a robust debate with Ministers and Dame Judith Hackitt, who is leading the government’s review, about future requirements and standards.
Dame Judith has indicated she does not favour a “prescriptive” approach which would simply ban combustible materials, whereas we are clearly recommending a ban on the use of combustible materials on tower blocks.
Meanwhile, the HCLG Ministry is currently running a consultation about using desk-top studies only to assess fire risks.
A ‘desktop study’ is a way of trying to find out whether or not a cladding system would meet particular standards in particular circumstances without actually testing it. It involves using data from previous tests of the materials in different combinations to make assumptions about how it would perform in the proposed use. The alternatives to a desktop study are full scale testing or not using combustible materials.
So, why don’t we think desk-top studies are sufficient? Well, because we already have the evidence which shows that cladding approved through desk-top tests has later failed fire safety tests.
In this instance, I’m clear that desktop studies alone are simply dangerous if any combustible materials are permitted to be used in the cladding of tower blocks. I’m concerned that the overuse of desktop studies would be a contributory factor to a weaker, less stringent regulatory regime and would increase the likelihood of dangerous materials being used on high-rise residential buildings.
This week, I’ve written to Mr Brokenshire to tell him very clearly that we believe there should be a total ban on the use of combustible materials on high-rise buildings1 .
But, if Dame Janet Hackitt recommends a risk-based approach to assessment, it is simply not acceptable for such risks to be assessed only in desk-top studies.