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Ministers were warned about fire regulations, BBC says leaked letters show

UK News | Published: | Last Updated:

Twelve letters were sent to the government by an all-party group following the 2009 fire in Lakanal House.

Tributes are left by Latymer Community Church

Ministers were repeatedly warned that fire regulations were not keeping people safe, the BBC says leaked letters reveal.

The broadcaster said letters show ministers were warned that people living in high rise blocks like Grenfell Tower were “at risk”.

The dozen letters, sent by the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group in the aftermath of a 2009 fatal fire in Lakanal House, south London, warned the Government “could not afford to wait for another tragedy”, according to Panorama.

“As there are estimated to be another 4,000 older tower blocks in the UK, without automatic sprinkler protection, can we really afford to wait for another tragedy to occur before we amend this weakness?”

After further correspondence, then government minister Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams, replied: “I have neither seen nor heard anything that would suggest that consideration of these specific potential changes is urgent and I am not willing to disrupt the work of this department by asking that these matters are brought forward.”

The group replied: “We’re at a loss to understand, how you had concluded that credible and independent evidence which had life safety implications, was NOT considered to be urgent.

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“As a consequence the group wishes to point out to you that should a major fire tragedy, with loss of life, occur between now and 2017, in for example, a residential care facility or a purpose built block of flats, where the matters which had been raised here, were found to be contributory to the outcome, then the group would be bound to bring this to others’ attention.”

Former cabinet minister Sir Eric Pickles received a letter about fire regulations from the parliamentary group in February 2014, according to the BBC.

Sir Eric Pickles
Former cabinet minister Sir Eric Pickles received a letter about fire regulations from the parliamentary group in February 2014, according to the BBC

In December 2015, the all-party group wrote to the former Conservative minister James Wharton, and warned about the risk of fires spreading on the outside of buildings with cladding.

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“Today’s buildings have a much higher content of readily-available combustible material. Examples are timber and polystyrene mixes in structure, cladding and insulation.

“This fire hazard results in many fires because adequate recommendations to developers simply do not exist. There is little or no requirement to mitigate external fire spread.”

Former Conservative minister Gavin Barwell, who was recently appointed Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief of staff, received further calls for action in September last year.

Gavin Barwell
Former Tory MP Gavin Barwell and Theresa May’s current chief of staff, was also warned about the danger (Chris Radburn/PA)

In November 2016 Mr Barwell replied to say his department had been looking at the regulations, and would make a statement “in due course”.

In April 2017 Mr Barwell wrote to say he did “acknowledge that producing a statement on building regulations has taken longer than I had envisaged”, according to the BBC.

Panorama also reported that emergency services put out an initial fridge fire at Grenfell Tower, but as the firefighters were leaving the building, colleagues outside saw flames rising up the side of the high rise.

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