Amid a flurry of coverage of the misery being caused by the cladding scandal this week, I think it's worth explaining that this problem comes from 30 years of building regulation failure and the fact that the government has not taken responsibility for that (thread)
Since the 1980s, we've had a deregulated building sector in the UK which relies on non-mandatory guidance and limited oversight from part-privatised inspectors. This has seen allowed combustible materials to be added to the outside of buildings in the following ways:
1. Class 0 cladding - the standard in official guidance for cladding pre-Grenfell was 'Class 0'. Lots of combustible materials can get a certificate saying they meet this such as i.e - wood packed with fire retardants, or plastic in metal sheets (like ACM)
2. Balconies - for reasons best known to the authors, official guidance pre-Grenfell omitted balconies from restrictions placed on combustible materials on walls. This means they can be made from just about anything, typically timber. This is a major fire risk.
3. Windows - there is a perceived loophole that windows are also not considered part of the wall, and this has seen the widespread use of combustible insulation like polystyrene in and around windows. Again, this can be a big fire risk.
4. Insulation - while combustible insulation was 'banned' on tall buildings, you could use it in a system which passed a test or was approved by a desktop study. Amid misleading marketing and limited oversight, these loopholes allowed its use to become pretty ubiquitous
5. Buildings below 18m - pre-Grenfell guidance allowed pretty much a free-for-all on these blocks. You could use very combustible cladding and insulation systems in complete compliance with the guidance.
In this context of weak rules on fire safety, we also had a massive push for higher insulation standards through the 2000s and 2010s without asking serious questions about fire safety. The result is thousands of buildings with combustible walls.
Add to this, our rules on general fire safety are some of the most loose in the world. One escape stair. No sprinklers. No alarms. Complete reliance on stay put. And then add falling construction standards, poor maintenance and some poor products like fire doors on the market
The result is a post-Grenfell landscape where thousands of buildings are seriously unsafe. This has steadily become clearer since 2017, and it's become obvious that
a) a massive (expensive) clean up is needed
b) the government's guidance carries a big part of the blame
But the government has studiously resisted accepting (b). A review by Dame Judith Hackett specifically did not look at the flaws in the guidance, focusing instead on some (admittedly serious) flaws in the industry which led to no one taking responsibility for safety
Instead, in December 2018 the government published Advice Note 14, which reinterpretted its own guidance to say it had always said that everything on the walls of the building needed to either be non-combustible or justified by a large-scale test.
This was George Orwell stuff: War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength and Approved Document B never permitted combustible balconies.
But the effect was government essentially washing its hands of blame and telling the industry to fix it.
But it was not going to be the industry that paid. For various reasons our legal system could not hold anyone to account in many cases, and in the absence of someone to blame, the cost of the remediation work falls at the door of the individual leaseholders.
And now mortgage providers got involved. They didn't want a building that was going to be devalued by fire issues as security, so they asked for assurances that everything had been built in accordance with AN14. Often, it hadn't. Even where it could, this couldn't be confirmed
So now you had gridlock. Homes couldn't be sold. The way out was supposed to be the introduction of EWS1 forms to allow buildings to be signed off as safe by a competent risk assessor. But there were three problems with this:
1. Only 291 assessors existed
2. Many did not have adequate PI insurance to sign a building off
3. Many buildings do have dangerous materials, so can't be signed off as safe
This then got worse in January, because the advice notes were consolidated and the effect of Advice Note 14 was imposed on medium rise buildings as well as high rises. A further 88,000 buildings now needed an EWS1 form before they could be sold.
So now we arrive at today. Around the country literally millions of people live in buildings that are either:
1. chronically unsafe
2. a bit unsafe
3. probably safe but not signed off as such and therefore worthless.
This is a genuinely enormous crisis and it's ruining lives
There is no easy way out. It is the result of 30 years worth of deregulation and the clean up required is enormous. But it MUST be centrally planned, centrally-led and probably needs changes to legislation to make those responsible accountable. It also needs much more funding
In parts of Australia they have similar problems and have introduced a levy on future development to create a pot of money which pays to fix the systemic issues, topped up by public funds. They have also put a big effort into identifying the most at risk buildings
That we are the country where Grenfell happened and we don't have anything like this (not to mention, still no sprinklers or escape strategies in most blocks) is a big badge of shame. The result is the misery you've been hearing about on LBC, the Spectator, Glamour mag etc (ends)
Addendum, some relevant bits of content for people interested in this story. A timeline of the road to Grenfell covering the deregulatory story in a bit more detail: https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/timeline-the-road-to-grenfell-63889
A bit about the influence of insulation lobbyists in getting a small but significant amendment to rules in the mid 2000s: https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/how-tweaked-guidance-led-to-combustible-insulation-on-high-rises-57877
Reflecting that I may have written too many long reads on this but there we go
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.