- Former Chief Executive of company which produced flammable insulation chaired the board of supposedly independent regulator
- Government changes to building safety guidance risk repeating mistakes made by companies responsible for allowing deadly Grenfell refurbishment, FBU says
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry should investigate the independence of building safety certification bodies, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says, as the Inquiry commences Module 2 of its second phase, which is set to investigate the testing, certification, and marketing of the materials used on the building’s external walls.
The FBU also demands that the Inquiry’s Panel consider whether blurred lines between regulatory and commercial activity in the construction industry may have affected regulators’ ability to serve the public interest.
Serious concerns must be raised as to whether the British Board of Agrément (BBA), which issues safety certificates for construction products, has remained sufficiently independent of the industry which it regulates since it was separated from the machinery of government in 1999.
Digby Harper, former Chief Executive of Celotex, producers of the flammable insulation which aided the fire spread at Grenfell, sat on the BBA’s Board of Governors from 2007 and chaired the board from 2008 until 2016.
Michael Ankers, then Chief Executive of the Construction Products Association, which “represents and champions” construction product manufacturers, sat on the board of the supposedly-independent BBA from 1999 until after the Grenfell Tower disaster.
The FBU asks the Inquiry to consider how, if at all, these conflicts of interest were resolved.
The union also warns that the government’s attempt to amend building safety guidance fails to recognise the complexities of fire safety, accusing ministers of making similar mistakes to those behind Grenfell’s deadly refurbishment.
Government guidance issued after Grenfell loosely refers to the flammable polyethylene core of Aluminium Composite Panels as “filler material”, allowing the construction industry to continue misapplying regulations intended for insulation materials to external wall surfaces.
Dr Barbara Lane, an expert witness to the Inquiry, previously warned it was “important” to “remove any means for loose interpretation of fire safety requirements regarding external wall construction”.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:
“Grenfell was an atrocity borne of an all-too-familiar story of deregulation and of cosy relationships between big business, regulators and government.
“If the Inquiry wants to understand how a residential building could become wrapped in something so flammable, it’s crucial that the revolving door between the commercial construction industry and their regulators be properly investigated. That must include asking the obvious question: ‘how can the former boss of the company which sold Grenfell’s flammable insulation be allowed to chair the board of the regulator?’
“It’s deeply disappointing but shamefully unsurprising, to see that the government’s attempts to improve building safety after Grenfell risk making the same mistakes that led to the disaster.
“Nothing short of a root and branch overhaul of the UK’s grotesquely corrupted building safety regime will set us on the right path, but the government has instead resolved to tinker around the edges with piecemeal reform. It’s simply not enough.”
For more information, go to www.fbu.org.uk