Updated: Feb 17
So, we have just passed the 3-year anniversary of one of the most tragic moments for high rise residential in the UK. So, have we learnt from it. Here is our 5 points which have and have not changed:
Has Grenfell brought about positive change?
Certainly, no one ever wants to wake with the scenes that woke us on 14th June 2017. News sites and television showing the West London tower block burning beyond belief. But Grenfell has tragically happened with the loss of 72 lives and it is now the responsibility of all of us in residential construction to learn from it.
Yes... There is positive change in several ways, here are 5 ways that the industry has progressed;
Awareness in Construction; It is a sad truth that there used to be very little fire related discussion even amongst envelope packages like solar shading, balconies and decking etc. The good news is that Fire is often a key strategy is often one of the first product discussions in CPD and trade magazines articles.
The Ban: Yes, it There are many products which have been redesigned, replaced, or enhanced. Necessity is the mother of invention and there a spectrum of new products which have been designed and tested (e.g. aluminium deck boards) which are now being used to enhance fire safety. One point we found particularly interesting is that authorities in other countries including New Zealand and Ireland, have both been reviewing their own fire principles to follow more closely by revising their own building codes.
Innovation: There are many products which have been redesigned, replaced, or enhanced. Necessity is the mother of invention and there a spectrum of new products which have been designed and tested (e.g. aluminium deck boards) which are now being used to enhance fire safety. One point we found particularly interesting is that even below the threshold for the Ban (currently 18m - likely to be 11m soon), many clients are choosing to at least choose a class B product rather than less safe alternatives (despite there not being a mandatory requirement).
Less reliance on a "sort on site" mentality. As Dame Hackett Identified, there has long been an approach to problem solve on site to keep things going. This however has been one of the construction flaws which facility poor performance different to those designed. The good news is that more of the industry is ensuring that pre-assembled components are selected for even exempt products, and that labour misinterpretation is designed out.
Education. As our own research identified, there is a clear sense in the UK that people feel they need to do more fire related education. We have been conducting many Fire roundtables, virtual interviews, and other physical events to ensure we take these important messages to the market and connect fire product specialists with the industry to close this knowledge gap. Market Leaders like Sapphire Balconies have also found that their regularly updated Fire CPD’s are by far the most popular.
But what about those areas which have not progressed like they should... Here are five of our top areas of concern:
Cladding replacement: Whilst there are various ones which have happened the replacement of ACM cladding is a minefield of unsolved challenges. From slow landlord action, resident replacement bills, zero valuation, etc. Unfortunately, the unfortunate residence living on these buildings are continually plagued with these issues. Some 246 buildings in the UK still have Aluminium composite Material (ACM) cladding.
Lack of cooperation from authorities: Hat’s off to those in Government (particularly Alok Sharma and Priti Patel) and Fire services (In particular Greater Manchester and West Mids.) for their proactive and helpful engagement. It has however been noticeable that some departments and larger brigades have not engaged so helpfully with the industry to explore, contribute, and support the industry in dealing with these issues.
Cost or Copy Approach: Across various sectors and products, we understand that there is still many clients and consultants substituting original specifications to save the money, and in some cases requesting cheap suppliers to copy leading products. This kind of approach will often result in the thinking and input being missed as the product is reverse engineered into a cheap product which looks like it will work but misses the key areas identified through a leading manufacturers detailed testing and experience.
Lack of joined up thinking: Early collaboration between designers, suppliers and interfacing trades is key to getting it right and designing the cost out. Some companies like Wates are great at taking this approach however there is still much room in the industry at large to get each party working together and avoid the isolated cost led approach similar to what happened in the substitution of the cladding choice at Grenfell.
Public Concern: Rightly so, the public quickly react and generally remain concerned about fire, especially when further incidents happen. The public concern is a healthy pressure on the residential construction industry and government alike. Especially exemplified at the Barking Fire, residents pressed home a point at a resident meeting about whether developers felt that minimum compliance was suitable or whether the ethos of companies and individuals should automatically drive better standards. The pressure is a healthy catalyst of industry change.
So there is lots happening and just as much yet to happen. One thing is for sure the Grenfell tragedy has driven need changed, It is certainly a shame that the reform didn't come before a tragic disaster.