The LGA has launched new training for lead members for housing.
The fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017 was an appalling event. It is often referred to as a tragedy, but it is important to recognise it was entirely avoidable.
The public inquiry into the fire is still examining its wider causes. But without pre-empting the inquiry’s findings, it is already clear that there are many lessons for those responsible for resident safety.
Some of these are specific technical points, such as not allowing combustible materials in the cladding systems of high-rise blocks; some are broader, covering our entire approach to safety and resident engagement.
The evidence at the inquiry so far suggests residents of Grenfell Tower were let down at every stage and every level. Perhaps the most worrying aspect is that residents warned of a disaster and their warnings do not appear to have been heeded.
In the wake of the fire, the Government appointed Dame Judith Hackitt to consider the lessons for building safety. Her recommendations formed the basis of the Building Safety Bill that is currently before Parliament.
The bill creates a Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive; new ‘gateways’ to approve new residential buildings more than 18 metres tall; a new regime for managing safety in existing residential buildings above 18m; and a new construction product-safety regime.
The LGA has helped shape the bill by providing evidence and witnesses to the Public Bill Committee, briefing parliamentarians ahead of key debates, and by encouraging interventions across both Houses.
The LGA continues to lobby for improvements to the bill along the lines set out in our briefings and our position statement on leaseholder costs (see www.local.gov.uk/lga-position-statement-leaseholder-costs).
At the same time as this new regime is being devised, the Home Office, which is responsible for fire policy, has produced the Fire Safety Act 2021.
This applies to residential buildings of any height. It requires the review of fire risk assessments to include external wall systems and entrance doors to flats, and is expected to usher in regulations implementing the recommendations the inquiry has made to date.
We are in an unusual position that these are yet to pass, so details could change.
While timings and leaseholders’ costs dominate conversations, the significant new responsibilities that councils with high-rise stock will have under the bill remain a key issue.
With this in mind, what can we, as elected members, do better to ensure residents are safe?
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has demonstrated the need for portfolio holders and cabinet members to be able to exercise effective scrutiny over the delivery of the housing function by officers and arms-length management organisations (ALMOs).
So, this year, the LGA is launching a Leadership Essentials course on building safety, to support lead members for housing to explore these issues.
The course will take place on 24-25 February and will:
- discuss policy issues regarding the new regime, with input from key speakers, and create space for reflection
- explore new responsibilities as duty holders under the Building Safety Bill and the Fire Safety Act/Order
- focus on ensuring portfolio holders understand their scrutiny role in overseeing the work of housing departments.
If you are a portfolio holder or lead member for housing in a council with stock above 18m (including through an ALMO), it is crucial that you attend the course.