Truth to Power

30 April 2018

In his address to both government houses, Jonathan O'Neill provided the perspective of UK insurers on the review of Building Regulations.

Dame Judith Hackitt kicks off her interim report by reminding us of the tragic and serious events that led to the fire in the early hours of 14 June last year; quite correctly pronouncing that this should never happen again. I am sure that everyone in this room can recall their emotions that morning.
 
Grenfell Tower
 
I was due on a very early morning flight to Lisbon. I think my alarm woke me at about 2.00am; sadly for me, I am alerted to larger fires, and so as I went to silence my alarm I was aware of the incident in West London. As I left the house and got into the car the seriousness of the incident was becoming clearer. I arrived at Heathrow in two minds about whether I should catch the flight or remain in London. 
From the top of the car park at Heathrow, I could see the smoke, and assumed at that stage that the fire and rescue service had it under control. It was clearly serious, but not for one moment did I think the incident would have resulted in the largest loss of life in fire in the UK since the Second World War – and this happened on our watch!
 
Sadly before I left London that morning, in fact before I actually left Evesham 120 miles north west of here, I was pretty sure that the fire I could see reported in those grainy pictures on Twitter and on the internet from the BBC involved the combustible cladding. I also knew that we had been aware of this risk for some considerable time: I had actually made a presentation to BRAC some 18 months earlier questioning the appropriateness of current building regulations (BRs) and pleading for a review.
 
That presentation was the result of a campaign that the FPA and insurers had been running for the previous six months or so. In common with many in the fire sector, we had become frustrated that our regulations had not been properly reviewed in respect of fire for the best part of ten years. We were concerned that during that period, changes in the regulations for thermal insulation, the drive for sustainability and the move towards modern methods of construction (MMC) had resulted in a massive rise in the proportion of combustible materials being routinely used in the building process. 
 
Frustrated by the continual refusal of successive governments to recognise the importance of a resilient (as well as a sustainable) built environment, we had already produced our own version of Approved Document B (ADB) – which highlighted property protection. Interestingly, it proved to become one of RIBA’s best sellers!
 
Read the full article on Fire & Risk Management here
Truth to Power