After the horror of Grenfell, why are we still wrapping buildings in materials that burn?

The Hackitt Review failed to recommend a ban on combustible cladding.

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Following that tragic night at Grenfell Tower almost a year ago, the government rightly promised a review into fire safety and many in the housing industry have been awaiting the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, more commonly known as “The Hackitt Review” with bated breath. Today, finally, the review arrived. But to widespread shock across the housing industry, it ducked a huge challenge by failing to recommend a ban on combustible cladding.

Flammable cladding and insulation played a clear role in allowing the fire to spread over Grenfell and sustaining the blaze. Hence the omission of such a ban provoked a furious response. Thankfully, rather than simply accepting the review’s recommendations, the government has responded by saying it will hold a consultation – open until the end of July – on banning these materials.

We hope this consultation will heed the concerns of Grenfell survivors, local government, architects, and even the insurance industry, all saying what seems obvious – that we shouldn’t be wrapping buildings in materials that burn. We are sure this call would be echoed by the thousands of people living in tower blocks who have been anxious, uncertain and unable to sleep soundly at night.

By refusing to recommend a ban on combustible cladding or the introduction of new and tighter safety rules, the Hackitt Review more or less backed the existing regime of relaxed building regulation.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. It’s hard, for example, to imagine a time now when we didn’t fit cars with seatbelts – we know fundamentally people are safer when they buckle up, which is why it’s been a legal requirement to have them in cars for over 50 years. And no matter how many innovations have helped to make driving even safer, like airbags and automatic breaking systems, none of these have provided an excuse to take the seatbelts away.

The same principle should apply with our homes. It’s a no-brainer that it will always be safer to clad and insulate a building with materials that can’t burn, instead of those that can.

The government has shown leadership this week in announcing it will pay to replace unsafe cladding and we welcome today’s news that it will also consider views on a full ban. The Secretary of State now needs to ensure this leads to action to make tower blocks safer without delay.

There will always be voices in the industry lobbying to say that such changes are unnecessary or outdated. But if the government wants to restore public trust that it will keep us safe in our homes, it needs to start taking a belt and braces approach.

Polly Neate is the chief executive of the housing charity Shelter. 

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