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Grenfell Fire Inquiry Demands Radical Overhaul of U.K. Building Rules

May 17, 2018

“Where enforcement is necessary, it is often not pursued,” she wrote. “Where it is pursued, the penalties are so small as to be an ineffective deterrent.”

And the testing and approval of construction materials, a critical issue in the Grenfell fire, “is disjointed, confusing, unhelpful, and lacks any sort of transparency.”

She recommended creation of a new agency, focused at first on residential high-rises, that would gather all the government roles under one roof, make the standards for everyone involved both tougher and clearer, and greatly step up enforcement and penalties.

Those shifts would require action by the government. A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said the government would make needed reforms, but did not commit to any specifics.

The new system should not be built solely on a thicket of narrow rules, Ms. Hackitt argued, because a legalistic adherence to those rules could still result in buildings like Grenfell that were unsafe. Instead, she wrote, the system must start with the big picture, stating the required safety results — like how much time people have to get out of a building — that must also be met. A structure that complied with the detailed rules but still did not meet the safety goals would not be approved.

Grenfell, a 24-story block, had an aluminum facade with a flammable plastic core, which allowed flames to spread rapidly up the exterior. That kind of cladding was legal in Britain, but tests conducted after the blaze showed that it failed fire safety standards, raising questions about how it had ever been allowed.

After the tests last year, the government concluded that 228 high-rise buildings around the country had unsafe cladding and ordered it removed, but property owners balked at the cost. Mrs. May said recently that the government would provide $540 million to pay for the work.