The ARCH Tenants' Group held a minute's silence at their Annual
General Meeting on 19 June to pay their respects to those that had
lost their lives in the disastrous fire at Grenfell Tower.
The group were understandably anxious about the safety of
residents living in other tower blocks across the country and
members reported on the actions that had already been taken by
their own councils to reassure residents. The group also recognised
that the Grenfell Tower police-led investigation is now underway
and it will be some time before it is fully understood how the fire
started and the reasons why it took hold and spread so quickly in
the way it did.
The group committed to continue to promote fire safety in their
own local authorities and agreed to agenda a more detailed
discussion on fire safety at a future meetings.
The exact reasons for the speed of the spread of fire have yet
to be determined. However, the government have concluded that there
are additional tests that can be undertaken regarding the cladding
that may have been applied to these blocks during refurbishment
programmes. Although there are councils working with the Department
for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to identify whether any
panels used in new build or refurbishment projects are of a
particular type of cladding made of Aluminium Composite Material
(ACM). DCLG have stressed that ACM cladding is not of itself
dangerous, but it is important that the right type is used. DCLG
officials have also written to owners, landlords and managers of
private residential blocks about safety checks following the
Grenfell Tower fire.
More details on how to identify this cladding are being supplied
in a technical note to councils and housing associations. The Homes
and Communities Agency can also offer expert support in surveying
properties if necessary.
In a statement issued on 19 June, Communities Secretary,
Sajid Javid, said:
"We have asked local authorities
and all providers of social housing to identify whether any
buildings in their area contain cladding made of aluminium
composite material (ACM) by the end of today (Monday 19
We are putting in place a
rigorous, government funded testing process for any ACM cladding
Housing Minister Alok Sharma this
morning met representatives from across the housing sector
including the Home Builders Federation, Local Government
Association and the National Housing Federation. They all expressed
their support for this work and gave a commitment that they would
progress this with all possible haste.
It is clear that a considerable
amount of work has already been undertaken. Councils are working
closely with fire and rescue services to ensure that the
appropriate safety and response measures are in place and talking
to their tenants to hear their concerns.
Any landlord who is concerned can
contact the department at firstname.lastname@example.org
for further advice about cladding materials - this is a dedicated
contact point which has been set up to provide technical support
Our priority is to reassure
people that they are safe in their homes - and that is exactly what
we are doing."
The Prime Minister updated Parliament on 22 June and following
the Prime Minister's statement, the Secretary of State for
Communities & Local Government has subsequently written to MPs to provide an update on
the situation in which he said that as at that date some 600 high
rise buildings (owned by housing associations and councils) have
been identified as having various forms of cladding and, as at that
date, samples of cladding from 11 high rise buildings in 8
different local authority areas have failed the testing process.
The landlords of those buildings and the local fire & rescue
services have been alerted to the results and action is being taken
to inform tenants and address the specific fire risks.
The names of the local authority or housing association where
samples have failed the tests will be made known once the landlords
have informed their tenants. As at 22 June the only areas named
publicly were Camden, Manchester & Plymouth.
Following the Prime Minister's statement to Parliament, Hilary
Benn MP asked a question of the Prime Minister:"Was the cladding of
the type used in Grenfell Tower compliant with the fire safety and
building regulations applicable when refurbishment was undertaken -
yes or no?".In response the Prime Minister stated:"My understanding
is that the fire service and BRE (Building Research Establishment),
which was on the scene early to look at that issue, have been
identifying the cause of the fire and contributory factors. They
are testing the cladding on the building and expect to make the
results public in , I think, the next 48 hours"
(Hansard 22/6/17 Volume 626 Column 181)
ARCH Chief Executive, John Bibby, had previously written to
officials at DCLG to say that ARCH stands ready to assist in anyway
in either disseminating information or advice from the Department
on the management of fire risks in tower blocks and/or in gathering
any relevant information.
To further assist ARCH members in their response to this tragedy
and any ongoing actions arising from the fire, we will be setting
up a forum in the ARCH members' area where information can be
shared about local responses - details will be sent to member
Although attention is currently focused on the cladding used,
the causes of the fire at Grenfell Tower and why it spread have not
yet been established, so it is impossible to be sure what, if any,
remedial action may be necessary in relation to other tower blocks.
As the causes become clearer we will be keen to understand from
member authorities the precise implications for stock retained
councils, whether capital works, improved management or the need to
rehouse vulnerable residents will be needed and the cost
implications as we pursue a discussion with the new government on
housing investment and the future of rents policy.
We have also written, jointly with the National Federation of
ALMOs, to the new Housing Minister, Alok Sharma, in the first
instance offering our help with the response to
the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but also are looking to initiate a
wider dialogue on issues of concern to ARCH members.
The House of Commons Library has produced a useful overview of the legal framework
under which fire risks in tower blocks are currently managed in
England covering the Building Regulations, Regulatory Reform (Fire
Safety) Order 2005, and the Housing, Health & Safety Rating
Update 25 June 2017: DCLG confirm the number of
high rise buildings which have failed a combustibility test is now
60 across 25 local authority areas details of which can be found in
the Secretary of State's statement.
Update 27 June 2017: It is reported that the
number of high rise buildings which have failed a combustibility
test is now 95 across 32 local authority areas. The Prime Minister
is also reported as saying that there could be a "major national
investigation" into cladding issues as an add on to the Grenfell
In the meantime, the government has announced that a new Independent Expert Advisory Panel will be
established to advise on measures to be put in place to make
buildings safe following the Grenfell Tower fire.
Update 28 June 2017: The Prime Minister in the House of
Commons advised MPs that the cladding from 120 tower blocks across
the country, in 37 different local authority areas, has now been
tested and has failed the combustibility test.
The Prime Minister went on to say: "Given the 100%
failure rate, we are very clear with local authorities and housing
associations that they should not wait for test results; they
should get on with the job of the fire safety checks - indeed, they
are doing that - and take any action necessary. The Government will
support them in doing that. The Communities Secretary has set up an
independent expert advisory panel to advise on the measures that
need to be taken. The panel is meeting this week."
In response to a question from the Leader of the
Opposition, who asked whether cladding with a combustible core,
such as polyethylene, is legal for use on high rise buildings, and
was the cladding on Grenfell Tower legal?, the Prime Minister
"Building regulations identified the cladding that is
compatible with the building regulations and that which is
non-compliant. My understanding is that this cladding was not
compliant with the building regulations. This raises wider issues,
as the House will recognise. It is important that we are careful in
how we talk about this. A criminal investigation is taking place,
and it is important that we allow the police to conduct that
criminal investigation and to take the decisions they need to take.
There is a much wider issue here, as we have seen from the number
of buildings where the cladding, from the samples already sent in
by local authorities and housing associations, has failed the
combustibility test. This is a much wider issue, with cladding
having been put into buildings for decades. There are real
questions as to how this has happened, why it has happened, and how
we can ensure it does not happen in future. That is why I am clear
that in addition to the inquiry that needs to identify the specific
issues for Grenfell Tower-what happened in relation to Grenfell
Tower and who was responsible-we will also need to look much more
widely at why it is that over decades, under different Governments
and under different councils, material has been put up on tower
blocks that is non-compliant with the building regulations. There
is a very wide issue here. We need to make sure we get to the
bottom of it and that is what we are going to do." (Hansard column 587)
Watch out for further updates in the next ARCH e-bulletin.