THE government did not act on advice from the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to issue ‘a warning to housing providers’ about the danger of combustible materials used in external cladding systems given eight years before the Grenfell Tower fire.
The warning was issued to Sir Ken Knight, in his role as a chief advisor to government at the time
Letters between the brigade and central government in the aftermath of the 2009 fatal fire at Lakanal House in south London were released by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry for the first time today.
They show a specific warning about combustible materials in external walls in the months after the blaze, as well as a series of letters to Conservative minister Brandon Lewis in 2012 and 2013 urging further action.
Asked about the exchanges today, Rita Dexter, former deputy commissioner at the LFB, said she felt the responses from government were ‘not satisfactory’.
She added that the LFB was aware the government did not want ‘additional layers of regulation’ and that the LFB was ‘not pushing at an open door’ in making the requests.
She added that it was ‘a statement of recognised fact at that time that the government had formally declared policies about reducing the burdens on business’ and had a ‘deregulatory agenda’.
The first letter revealed by the inquiry was sent to Sir Ken Knight, then chief fire and rescue advisor to the government, in December 2009 – just five months after the blaze at Lakanal House killed six people.
The brigade had recently seen testing carried out by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) which showed that panels attached to the outside of the building ‘do not have the necessary reaction to fire properties’.
Its letter said it had also ‘become aware that this type of panel has been supplied by more than one company’.
The panel used at Lakanal House was made of a combustible high-pressure laminate material and had been installed below windows during a refurbishment. The blaze had ignited one of these panels after breaking out of a flat window, spreading flames up the building.
In the letter, Ron Dobson, then-commissioner of the LFB, wrote: ‘In the circumstances, we believe it may be appropriate for a warning to be given to housing providers that it would be advisable to check the specification for external wall panels in their high-rise housing stock and check that what has been installed meets the correct specification… and to include this in fire risk assessments for relevant properties.’
However, Sir Ken Knight, who has chaired the government’s ‘expert panel’ since the Grenfell Tower fire, responded a week later, writing that the matters had been discussed within government ‘in some detail’.
In the event, a letter was sent to social landlords that simply advised them to ensure building control inspectors had oversight of any cladding or window works but did not specify the risks outlined by Mr Dobson.