But review leader says she would support a government decision to ban combustible materials
Calls by survivors of the Grenfell tragedy to ban combustible cladding materials have gone unheard in the final report of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review into building safety.
Hackitt’s report called for “less prescriptive” building regulations but she conceded she would support government if it decided to ban the controversial materials. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ahead of the report’s release, Hackitt moved to assure the public that residents had been listened to.
She said: “I have talked to residents from Grenfell, I have talked to residents from many other tower blocks around the country.“I absolutely recognise their level of concern and distress about this and I would hope when they see the content of my report and when they read all the changes that I want to make to this system to make it more robust they will recognise it is about more than simply issuing a ban on certain materials.“
Cladding is one issue there are many other features and many other shortcuts out there that could result in disasters in the future which we need to address as part of this and it needs a whole system change.”
Meanwhile, residents and activists from the Ledbury Estate in south east London have voiced their disappointment that the review did nothing to specifically address concerns about large panel system high rise buildings.While Hackitt acknowledged the “lack of an audit trail as to whether essential safety work was carried out on the Ledbury Estate, and other large panel systems tower blocks” as evidence of the “deep flaws in the current system” no recommendations were made to address the issue.
The leader of advocacy group Tower Blocks UK, who is putting together a pro-bono panel to provide practical support to tower block residents concerned about safety, criticised the fact that large panel systems were not addressed in the Hackitt Review.
Frances Clarke said: “We are very disappointed that the Hackitt Review has not tackled the problems of large panel system blocks. Dame Judith has said that the way in which the Ledbury Estate was dealt with is an example of deep failures and yet no guidance is provided to owners on how these blocks should be dealt with. Tower Blocks UK is calling for a structural review of large panel blocks as a matter of urgency”
Founder of the Ledbury Action Group Danielle Gregory said the group had submitted a number of freedom of information requests to local authorities who own Taylor Woodrow Anglian tower blocks, the type of building that were deemed unsafe on the Southwark estate, to see whether the buildings had ever been strengthened.
“I really think we are in a national crisis. We need to do something now,” she said.
As a result of the discoveries at the Ledbury Estate last summer, the government wrote to all local authorities and housing associations who own large panel system tower blocks asking them to undertake intrusive tests to determine whether the towers had ever been structurally reinforced.
Among those were Leicester City Council, which has decided to demolish its only Taylor Woodrow Anglian tower block, while the decantation of residents from Lethbridge Estate in Lewisham was sped up after are report from Arup engineers found no evidence of structural strengthening ever having been done.
The report said: “To meet the recommendations for a large panel system block with piped gas, significant strengthening of the structure would be required including wall and floor elements in addition to the joints.”
Two Taylor Woodrow Anglian towers in Hammersmith & Fulham, which have been previously strengthened, also failed to meet building regulations, with engineers finding they still require strengthening.
But concerns have also emerged about other types of large panel system blocks, with the Biart Estate in Rugby, which is made up of Bison high-rise blocks, having to start decanting residents in April after issues with fire resistance, poor quality concrete and corroding steel were highlighted in a survey commissioned by the borough council.
Gregory said: “It really escalates the problem as there are only 30 Taylor Woodrow Anglian tower blocks left but there are hundreds of Bison apartment blocks.”