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Sir David Amess MP blogs on Fire Safety

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

FIRE SAFETY & RESCUE

TOWER BLOCKS UK – WEBSITE – BLOG – SIR DAVID AMESS MP

In submitting this ‘blog’ to Tower Block UK’s website, I wish to congratulate you on the vital work you are doing in assembling a focal point for those needing advice and information about fire safety as it affects this specific type of Risk.

I am the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue Group. Over the years there has been a common view from Government (of whatever Party) that the shift to preventive activity, which fire and rescue services had embraced around the turn of the century, had paid dividends. Deaths and injuries had fallen by around 60% and calls to Fire & Rescue Services were down by a similar number.

Ministers and civil servants fielded very few questions about fire and as far as Whitehall was concerned, it was “JOB DONE”.

However, the last review of Building Regulations in relation to Fire Safety was in 2006 (thirteen years ago) and Government’s focus on removing the burden of ‘red tape’ predominated over keeping a ‘watchful eye’ on the quietly developing modern methods of construction and materials being increasingly used in the UK’s Built Environment, which had changed unrecognisably since 2006.

Lakanal House Tower Block Fire in 2009, and the resulting Coroner’s Inquest in 2013, ought to have been the ‘wakeup call’ that things were going wrong. There had been previous fires in high rise flats in Ayr, in Merseyside and in Hertfordshire giving strong warnings that external fire spread in tall buildings where people lived and slept, needed to be addressed.

The significance of the Coroner’s Rule 43 letter to the Secretary of State in March 2013, cannot be overstated given where we are now. (six years after the Lakanal House Inquest and over two years since the catastrophic Grenfell Tower Fire).

The All-Party Group, the Coroner and the general public was promised by the then Secretary of State, a Review of the Fire safety Guidance in Approved Document B to the Building Regulations, which would be completed in 2016/17 - and which still hasn’t commenced.

After Grenfell, the current Secretary of State is following a process of ‘consult, report, review’, but to many on the All-Party Group, and the general public, the need for immediate action in some areas is both urgent and obvious. (especially where the evidence is clear). To his credit, the Secretary of State placed a ‘ban’ on the use of combustible materials on the external walls of buildings in scope, but still permits such use on the external walls of high risk buildings under 18m in height!

The devastating spread of fire at the recent flats in Barking where timber balconies were ignited reportedly by the use of a barbecue, is further evidence, adding more urgency to this issue, along with yet another complication of an open sided car park built immediately underneath these flats.

There is clear evidence also for the retrofitting of automatic fire sprinkler protection in Tower Blocks, and indeed in other high risk buildings. The Lakanal House Coroner asked the former Secretary of State to: “encourage social housing providers to consider the retrofitting of sprinklers in such Tower Blocks”, but no such encouragement was given. The National Fire Chiefs Council has recently assembled Five years of evidence of real fires in the UK where automatic sprinklers were installed, and where they either extinguished or controlled the fire on 99.5% of occasions. (100% in Flats). This work was i