LONDON (Reuters) - Britain could ban the use of combustible materials on high-rise buildings in response to the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 71 people last June, the housing minister said on Thursday.
Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey London social housing block, was engulfed in flames after fire broke out in the middle of the night. An aluminum cladding with a combustible plastic core is thought to have contributed to the rapid spread of the fire.
“The government will consult on banning the use of combustible materials and cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings,” minister James Brokenshire told parliament.
He was speaking after a government-ordered review of building regulations, published earlier, drew widespread criticism because it did not recommend an outright ban on combustible materials in tall housing blocks.
The review’s author, engineer Judith Hackitt, said a ban would not be sufficient because existing regulations already meant that unsafe cladding should not have been used. She said the problem was that people were cutting corners and ignoring the regulations.
“There’s something seriously wrong with the regulatory system,” she said on BBC Radio 4, calling for it to be completely overhauled and for tougher sanctions to be introduced for transgressions.
But her decision not to advise a ban on combustible cladding or insulation for high-rise buildings drew immediate condemnation from a wide range of critics including the opposition Labour Party.
“It beggars belief that the government’s building safety review gives the green light to combustible materials on high-rise blocks,” said John Healey, Labour’s housing policy chief.
He urged Brokenshire to press ahead with a ban without any consultation, but Brokenshire responded that it was right to consult to make sure the eventual policy decisions were right.
The issue has far-reaching implications not only for the construction industry but also for social housing landlords and private landlords, as dozens of other high-rise buildings have been found to have cladding that could pose a fire safety risk.
The government promised on Wednesday to spend 400 million pounds ($540 million) on replacing unsafe cladding on public high-rise blocks, lessening the burden on cash-strapped local authorities. The cladding problem has bedevilled local councils, not least because of a lack of clarity on what should replace it.
The causes of the Grenfell Tower fire are the subject of an inquiry which is due to start public hearings next week.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison