The Grenfell Tower fire tragedy was a shock to the nation and highlighted the need for change within the construction sector. The Grenfell Tower fire began during the night on the 14th of June 2017 and claimed the lives of 72 people. The fire travelled up the building due to the use of combustible ACM cladding.
The awful tragedy has ruined many people's lives and continues to do so. Many residents continue to live in fear, worry and uncertainty as they feel the regulatory changes do not address current challenges, go far enough in guidance, do enough in funding or enforcing improvements.
Four years on, how much have the regulations, guidance and practices of the residential construction industry changed? While there have been some significant changes, we must continue to learn, change and develop both the regulations and industry practices.
Changes to Approved Document B (AD B): Recent amendments to the document include improvements to preventing fire spread and measures to increase the safety of occupants, firefighters and those close to a building in the event of a fire. The document continues to have regular amendments with the latest being in 2020.
Advice Notes from MHCLG: Following Grenfell the MHCLG issued numerous advice notes. The January 2020 consolidated advice note states: “Particular attention should be paid to any risk of fire spread from balconies and other attachments containing combustible materials”. This consolidated note brings the Expert Panel’s advice together in a single document and supersedes the existing Advice Notes 1 to 22. The advice on the assessment of non-ACM external wall systems (previously Advice Note 14) has been updated and incorporated, and some of the advice within the previously published notes has been condensed to make it clearer.
Fire Safety Act: The new Fire Safety Act which became law on the 29th April 2021 addresses the challenge of combustible cladding in high-rise residential buildings. The Act applies to the structure, external walls and any common parts of multi-occupancy residential buildings in England and Wales.
This means that building managers and owners will be required to include a fire risk assessment for these areas and take measures to reduce the risk of fire spread. If building owners and managers do not Fire and Rescue Authorities are able to use enforcement powers.
Building Safet Bill: combined with the Fire Safety Act, this Bill will deliver some of the recommendations from the Building a Safer Future report from Dame Judith Hackitt. It proposes several reforms to increase accountability, quality and transparency of the industry. Key introductions set out in the Bill include a new construction products regulator, new building safety regulator, as well as the establishment of a new gateway system for the inspection and approval of high-risk residential buildings. The Bill will also introduce the ‘golden thread’ of information.
The London Plan: The most recent London Plan runs alongside Part B of the Building Regulations and states that all planning proposals in London must “create a safe and secure environment which is resilient to the impact of emergencies including fire and terrorism”. Policy D12 in the plan highlights the key focusses for fire safety:
Reducing risk to life
Minimising the risk of fire spread
Providing suitable means to evacuate and escape in the event of a building fire
While many considerable changes have been made to the requirements and guidance, there is still much to happen and many in the industry still feel these changes don’t go far enough. By positioning resident wellbeing at the heart of building design, these improvements are just the beginning of a lifelong commitment to improved fire safety.
All of us in the industry owe it to the public and the industry itself to drive higher standards of safety through the design, delivery and maintenance of buildings. Let’s all commit ourselves to building better, safer and ethically.