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Grenfell Update

Volume 683: debated on Monday 2 November 2020

The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 was a national tragedy. 72 people died in the greatest loss of life in a residential fire since the second world war; many more mourn the loss of their families, friends, community and homes.

The Grenfell Tower inquiry published its phase 1 report on 30 October 2019. The report’s findings addressed the events of that night—the fire, how it started and spread, and the emergency response to it. Today I am updating the House on the progress and choices that the Government have made in implementing and acting on these recommendations. We owe it to the bereaved, the survivors, the community, and indeed all people living in blocks of flats around the country to demonstrate that we are making progress and their homes are being made safer.

The Government are delivering a comprehensive programme of reform on building and fire safety to ensure real and long-lasting change. In the past year we have acted on the recommendations of Sir Martin and the inquiry, in addition to our ongoing work in response to recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt in the independent review. We are addressing historic defects and delivering new legislation. This will bring about thorough regulatory reform; and ensure that people feel empowered and listened to and, more importantly, that they are safe and feel safe in their homes.

We recognised the importance of urgent action to remove unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding from high-rise residential buildings, and to date 77% of identified high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings have already been or are in the process of being fully remediated. We expect this figure to rise significantly by 31 December as the remaining residential buildings have a plan in place or have expressed their intention to remediate. As well as providing support, we will hold the owners of these buildings to account and keep residents safe in their homes.

We have worked with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and local health and education partners to help the community in its recovery: rehousing residents of the tower and of Grenfell Walk; providing funding to support refurbishment of the Lancaster West estate; and addressing local concerns about the impact of the fire on health and the local environment.

We want the views of Grenfell communities to be heard across Government, which is why the Prime Minister appointed the right hon. Nick Hurd, former Minister for Grenfell Victims, as his independent adviser to represent the views of Grenfell communities at the heart of Government. We know that the bereaved and the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire await the forthcoming social housing White Paper, and we anticipate publishing this in the coming month.

My officials are working with the Grenfell community and the people affected by the fire, including on the delivery of a fitting and lasting memorial to the 72 people who very sadly lost their lives. As well as continuing to provide regular updates to the community about the site and regarding the legislative programme, we will also ensure we provide further regular updates on progress against the inquiry’s recommendations.

Recommendations from the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report

The report made 46 detailed recommendations to improve fire safety, directed at a range of organisations including: the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and fire and rescue services more broadly, other emergency services, building owners, and Government. The Government are already taking forward a number of these recommendations, including: fundamental legislative change; working with fire and rescue services to support them in making the necessary improvements; starting specific projects on evacuation; working with local leaders and national bodies to ensure that action is being taken across the country supported by new funding; and identifying and remediating buildings with historic risks from unsafe cladding.

Building a safer future

Since December 2019, the Home Office has led on developing and introducing the Fire Safety Bill. That Bill will clarify the scope of the fire safety order (FSO) in multi-occupied residential buildings. In particular, it will place beyond doubt that in multi-occupied residential blocks the FSO applies to the structure, external wall systems and flat entrance doors, ensuring that fire and rescue authorities can confidently take enforcement action where building owners or managers are not compliant.

The Fire Safety Bill paves the way for secondary legislation which we propose to make after the commencement of the Fire Safety Bill next year. The fire safety consultation held this year set out Government proposals to strengthen fire safety in regulated buildings in England to ensure that people are safe from fire regardless of where they live, stay or work. These proposals are a practical and effective approach to address the risks the inquiry identified in phase 1. They will provide residents with greater assurance and deliver fire safety improvements in their buildings and hold responsible persons, including building owners and managers, to account. At the same time, the Government will be introducing the Building Safety Bill in 2021, paving the way for a strengthened building safety regime for buildings, with an even stronger regime for high-rise buildings.

Looking to the future, at the heart of the new building safety regime are two new regulators. The first, the building safety regulator, will implement the more stringent regulatory regime for high-risk residential buildings. It will also oversee the safety and performance of other buildings and support work to improve the competence of professionals across the industry. The regulator will be delivered by the Health and Safety Executive and began to operate in shadow form earlier this year.

We are also committed to further strengthening the regulation of construction products. Our draft Building Safety Bill includes provisions for a more robust regulatory framework that covers a wider range of products. It will strengthen the powers available to regulators; enforce the rules and lay the groundwork to establish of a national regulator which will spearhead the new approach.

The shadow building safety regulator, within the HSE, is already advising the Government on the new regime. Over the coming months, it will develop guidance to ensure that all regulators involved understand how this will operate, and what they need to do to prepare for it.

Together, the measures in the draft Building Safety Bill, Fire Safety Bill, and fire safety order consultation will improve safety standards for residents in all blocks of flats. Stricter regulations for high-rise buildings will make sure those living in them can feel safe and be safe in their homes—as is their right. Indeed, everything my officials do across the building safety programme in the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the fire and resilience directorate in the Home Office is driven by a shared determination to prevent the recurrence of a tragedy like Grenfell.

Fire and rescue services

The phase 1 report made it very clear that fire and rescue services should make significant improvements to their training; policies and practices; and their equipment and technology. We are seeking real changes demonstrated through an investment in the right types of training, leadership and equipment.

That is why the Home Secretary wrote to LFB, requiring regular reporting on its progress on implementing the recommendations. Although there is still more to do, we are encouraged that LFB continues to focus on implementing all the recommendations directed to them as well as those targeting services more broadly. The LFB has revised its policies, and through a programme of training is embedding changes in the approach to high-rise firefighting. The integration of different and new technologies such as the trialling of drones to improve situational awareness and support incident commanders, is encouraging. The use of smoke hoods and smoke curtains to assist with evacuations, trialled in large-scale operational exercises, appears to be a positive step. The Home Office continues to receive regular reports which have shown steady and concerted progress, even against a backdrop of the pandemic.

The Home Secretary has also commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to review the governance and progress of LFB’s action plan to implement the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report. We anticipate the outcome of this initial review in January 2021.

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is reflecting the inquiry’s recommendations in its ongoing review of national operational guidance and the development of national standards through the Fire Standards Board, which this Government established. The Minister of State for Building Safety and Communities last month hosted a roundtable for all fire chiefs and chairs, to ensure that local services were equally committed to making rapid and meaningful progress in order to protect communities.

To ensure that the lessons from Grenfell are learned and change is implemented at pace we have made available £10 million in additional funding in 2020-21 to drive change nationally and in local services. A further £20 million has been provided to support fire protection activity across England.

As with London, HMICFRS will provide independent assurance on the effectiveness of services in responding to the recommendations as part of its second cycle of inspection, which the Home Secretary has agreed will commence in the new year.

Fire protection

The independent review into building regulations and fire safety found the system “broken”. This broken system is being further revealed through the work of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. The phase 1 report found that a number of key fire protection measures failed to work as they should have at Grenfell. The inquiry identified failings in the way in which LFB fulfilled its obligations under section 7(2)(d) of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. This requirement is in place to ensure that it had the information needed for extinguishing fire and protecting life at the tower.

Post Grenfell, we have seen other examples, which have further highlighted the importance of strengthening the overall protection capability and capacity of fire and rescue services. The work of HMICFRS, the independent review and the Grenfell Tower inquiry evidence the need for more to be done to ensure that people are safe and secure in their homes and that FRSs need additional support to deliver an improved protection function to help achieve this goal. It is important that people can feel safe in their homes and that is why we have committed to ensuring that all high-rise residential buildings are inspected or reviewed by the end of 2021.

Our first priority for the £20 million protection funding has been to ensure that fire and rescue services are able to review or inspect every high-rise residential building in England by the end of 2021. This is a major programme of work, overseen by the Fire Protection Board, which will set the foundation for the building safety regulator. The funding has also created a new leadership function in NFCC; and provides funding for fire and rescue services to have the capability and capacity to respond to risks in other potentially higher-risk buildings, including residential buildings under 18 metres, care homes and hospitals.

Both MHCLG and the Home Office have worked with services and the NFCC, through the Fire Protection Board, to ensure appropriate interim measures remain in place to protect residents in buildings with dangerous cladding, such as ACM. The revised NFCC simultaneous evacuation guidance, published on 1 October 2020, provides clearer advice which supports the fire and rescue services and responsible persons to fully evacuate as soon as a fire is detected. The guidance advises responsible persons to explore cost benefit options with leaseholders and residents. It also encourages the installation of common fire alarms systems which means reducing the dependency on waking watch wherever possible. The guidance also reiterates that interim measures should only ever be short term and are not a substitute for remediation.

In addition, the research to support the development of national guidelines for carrying out partial or total evacuations of high-rise residential buildings and building design requirements is progressing. Independent experts will support the research that will underpin this work, and review the means of escape provisions in blocks of flats, including use of the “stay put” strategy and evacuation.

Emergency services

The joint emergency services interoperability principles (JESIP) joint doctrine provides responders, at the scene and elsewhere, with a common way of working when responding to multi-agency incidents. Sir Martin recommended a number of amendments to the JESIP joint doctrine, including around communicating the declaration of a major incident.

The emergency services lead chief officers have committed to addressing, in full, these recommendations in the review of the JESIP joint doctrine currently under way. This work is forecast to be completed in spring 2021.

Early actions and remediating historic risks

Following the fire, the Government removed unsafe cladding products from the market and began dealing with historic defects. We banned combustible materials for use on new high-rise residential buildings and continue to work closely with local authorities, industry and regulators to identify existing buildings with dangerous cladding. Since then, we have continued to engage robustly with building owners, regulators and industry, to ensure the most dangerous forms of cladding are removed and replaced as soon as possible.

Building owners are responsible for building safety. But the Government recognise that funding is often a key barrier to remediation. That is why we are providing £1.6 billion to speed up the removal of unsafe cladding.

Despite covid restrictions, we made it clear that these circumstances could not be allowed to impede progress on ACM remediation. Working closely with industry, we made good progress despite the many challenges we faced. We have set out a clear expectation that all building owners, across all sectors, must start ACM remediation works on site by the end of 2020.

There is still some way to go, but it is important to recognise that homes are being made safer. To date, 351 buildings (77% of all identified high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings, including hotels and student accommodation) have already been or are in the process of being fully remediated. Some 148 social sector residential buildings—95% of that sector—have done the same. All remaining residential buildings now have a plan in place or have reported an intent to remediate.

Both I and the Minister of State for Building Safety and Communities have personally met local leaders and the fire service to support them in taking action where progress is slow.

Progress is reported through monthly data releases, and we have made clear that we will not rule out further measures in our mission to hold the owners of these buildings to account and keep residents safe in their homes.

Conclusion

In the year since the phase 1 report was published, the Government have delivered demonstrable progress on all fronts and remained resolute in their commitment to deliver the recommendations. In relation to London we have used our powers to ensure that real change is happening. Through the funding we have provided the NFCC we have bolstered the national leadership that will help all services to make strategic and meaningful change—both in culture and leadership and in practical operational delivery. We have worked with industry, building owners and regulators to ensure the most dangerous forms of cladding are removed and replaced as soon as possible. This work is not complete—we will continue to improve our services and the safety of buildings to ensure that the conditions that led to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower will no longer exist. The proposed legislative reforms will ensure there is absolute clarity on the regulatory framework, providing strong and comprehensive building safety so that residents can know their safety is assured.

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