Architects organisation voices concern about Grenfell Tower fire review

The Royal Institute of British Architects has written to Housing Secretary Sajid Javid raising serious concerns about the direction of the Hackitt Review into the Grenfell tower fire in which 72 people died.

Dame Judith Hackitt is currently compiling her report into the disaster which led to checks on the cladding of hundreds of residential tower blocks across the UK. But RIBA said it is worried that some of its key recommendations will be overlooked in the final report due out next month.

The letter from RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, set up following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, welcomed the suggestions in Dame Judith’s interim report that there should be clearer definition and allocation of statutory duties, increased independent oversight of construction quality and better building control enforcement.

However, the Institute raised significant concerns that key changes to ban flammable cladding, require sprinklers to be fitted and ensure there is a second means of escape for high rise residential buildings seem to have been overlooked.

In the letter the chair of the RIBA’s Expert Group and the Institute’s Immediate Past president Jane Duncan express worries that the current set of proposals under consideration by Dame Judith Hackitt will not provide clarity for professionals or deliver assurance for the public.

The RIBA has made a number of key recommendations for baseline prescriptive requirements to provide clarity for professionals and protect the public. These include external walls of buildings over 18 meters in height to be constructed of non-combustible (European class A1) materials only.

It also calls for more than one means of vertical escape from new multiple occupancy residential buildings over 11 metres high, consistent with current regulations for commercial buildings which it says are arguably lower risk.

The retro-fitting of sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems should be in place for existing residential buildings above 18 meters from ground level in height as ‘consequential improvements’ where an existing building is subject to ‘material alterations’, RIBA also says.

And it recommends that sprinklers/automatic fire suppression systems should be in all new and converted residential buildings, as currently required under Regulations 37A and 37B of the Building Regulations for Wales.

‘The RIBA has engaged closely with Dame Judith and her Review and we welcome many of the suggestions made in her interim report to strengthen the building control system. However, we fear that the current set of proposals under consideration overlook simple but critical changes that would provide clarity for professionals and most importantly, would help protect the public,’ said Duncan.

‘Sprinklers, a second means of escape and a ban on flammable cladding for high rise residential buildings are common-sense recommendations, and a basic requirement in many other countries. We have written to the Secretary of State making clear that there must be a thorough re-writing of the building regulations and guidance on all aspects of fire safety, to avoid continuation of the regulatory failings that lead to the Grenfell Tower fire,’ she added.