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Fire Safety

Volume 635: debated on Monday 22 January 2018

I am grateful for the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s “Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety”. Our building safety programme is making good progress in identifying potentially unsafe aluminium composite material cladding in English tower blocks. Through that and future action, we will make buildings much safer.

The use of sprinklers in high-rise blocks has been widely discussed since the tragic event at Grenfell Tower. Many of our tower blocks are constructed using individual compartments that are designed to prevent the spread of fire to other flats. However, there are many examples of where the integrity of such compartments has been compromised. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the fire resistant properties of individual flats will form part of the ongoing reviews?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Fire and rescue services have visited over 1,250 high-rise buildings since the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, and those inspections have included the checking of compartmentalisation, fire doors and other relevant features. The National Fire Chiefs Council has reaffirmed the principle of “stay put”, but it is the responsible person who must determine what is appropriate for each particular building.

I want to refer to Approved Document B of the building regulations and the guidance contained within it. Paragraph 12.7 specifically prevents the use of combustible material in the insulation of high-rise buildings. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the guidance is a lot less clear about cladding and appears to allow for the continued use of combustible materials in the cladding on high-rise buildings? If so, is the Secretary of State comfortable with that situation?

I do not think that that is still the case. However, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the need to review the guidance and the regulations themselves. That point was made clear by Dame Judith Hackitt in the interim report that she published last month, the recommendations of which we accepted in full.

Citiscape is a residential block in Croydon with the same flammable cladding as Grenfell Tower, and its residents fear that they are living in a deathtrap. The Secretary of State has told them that the responsible person should take action, but the freeholder, the developer, the managing agent and the insurer all deny liability, and the cladding stays in place while legal wrangles go on. There is only one responsible person left, so when will the Secretary of State take action to remove the dangerous cladding, and to keep people and their families safe?

I am happy to reiterate that the responsible person in such situations is clearly the freeholder. Whatever the legal case might be, the freeholder should take responsibility. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing has spoken to the chief executive officer of Proxima GR Properties, the company in this case, and is engaged in dialogue to try to see what we can do to ensure that it does the right thing.

As the Secretary of State has said, one of the key recommendations of the interim review of building regulations and fire safety was to restructure the whole suite of approved documents to provide more clarity on how fire safety measures are applied. Will the Secretary of State therefore provide an update on what steps his Department is taking to implement that recommendation, with particular regard to planning guidance?

The hon. Lady will know that the report was an interim report, with the final report due in the spring. There were some interim recommendations that we could act on immediately, and we have accepted all of them. For example, a recommendation about restricting how and when desktop studies can be used is being implemented right now. The hon. Lady might be interested to know that a convention involving industry experts, stakeholders and Dame Judith Hackitt is going on as we speak, just down the road from Parliament—I attended this morning—to look at what more can be done in the interim.