On Wednesday 21 July, Sir David Amess asked the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to improve building safety. As Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fire Safety and Rescue, Sir David is in regular communication with industry experts and continues to call for more fire safety provisions in buildings.
Sir David Amess said:
Since last October, the all-party parliamentary group for fire safety and rescue, which I chair—and I am delighted to see so many of its members participating in the debate—has responded in detail to four Government consultations on various aspects of fire and building safety. A further consultation was launched by the Department for Education on 27 May in relation to the revised fire safety design guide for new schools. In a nutshell, that proposes to remove in the future the requirement for automatic fire sprinkler protection for all but a very few new schools. This is not acceptable and I am delighted that it was raised at Prime Minister’s questions today.
We are suffering from consultation overload and we could really do with a road map as to how all these pieces of work fit together. Last Thursday was my third meeting with the noble Lord Greenhalgh on fire and building-related issues since 23 June. Only last week, during a joint meeting that I chaired with the all-party parliamentary group for disability, we heard a most distressing account of a disabled resident trapped on the 23rd floor of Grenfell Tower whose son carried her down through the smoke and flames at 2.30 am, one and half hours into the fire. Her husband tragically perished, having jumped from the building.
One significant issue raised by both the APPG and the National Fire Chiefs Council in their previous responses to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 consultation was that there remains a fundamental disconnect between the non-worsening conditions of building regulations and the expectations of continuous improvements through the fire risk assessment process set by the fire safety order. Regulation 4 of the Building Regulations 2010 states that where the work did not previously comply with schedule 1, the new work, when complete, should be “no more unsatisfactory in relation to that requirement than before the work was carried out”— meaning that the general fire precautions may never get improved to modern standards. This runs contrary to the principles of prevention outlined in the fire safety order—that premises’ risk assessment should adapt to technical progress and reduce overall risk within buildings.
Non-worsening provisions are resulting in lost opportunities to improve building safety. An example is the refurbishment of Lakanal House following a multiple-fatality fire. The London fire commissioner told the coroner that automatic fire sprinkler protection would have prevented the death of six residents who died if it had been installed. Subsequently, the coroner recommended to the then Secretary of State that he should encourage social housing providers in high-rise blocks of over 18 metres to consider retrofitting automatic sprinkler protections. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister: we must never make the same mistakes again.