Since the June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, the United Kingdom is attempting to come to terms with a ubiquitous feature of its urban landscape, the council-owned tower block. Built in 1974, the Grenfell Tower had recently-installed cladding meant to insulate the decades-old structure. Instead, the renovation served as an accelerant, leaping over the concrete floor plates that should effectively seal potential fires. The severity of the conflagration within a council-owned tower housing some of society’s most vulnerable raises the question of whether the British regulatory environment and construction industry facilitated such a tragedy.
The Guardian reports that the ‘Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety,’ has lodged a searing indictment of Britain’s construction industry and governmental regulation of high-rises. Authored by Dame Judith Hackitt, the report describes the practices that led to the Grenfell Tower fire as being caused by a “mindset of doing things as cheaply as possible and passing on responsibility,” and the use of third-party inspections that are “open to abuse given the potential conflicts of interests, with growing levels of mutual dependence between developers and contracted inspectors.” In short, the regulatory organs tasked with insuring building safety are increasingly in collusion with the property interests they are meant to police.
With more than a million people living in council-owned tower blocks, the review of British building practices and the regulation of high-density developments is imperative. As noted by The Guardian, Hackitt described the “whole system of regulation” as “not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.”
Although Hackitt’s report does not provide a specific framework to address the safeguarding of the country’s council-owned tower blocks, she emphasizes the need for greater clarity within regulatory guidance documents, increased scrutiny of inspectors and developers, as well as an examination of sprinklers, escape routs, cladding and alarm systems.