The Blog

On Wednesday, 14 June 2017, I was up early as I had to travel down to London for a meeting.

Having done my email, I took a quick look at one of the news sites.  Only to be faced with images of a burning tower block.

That was Grenfell.  72 people died that day.

About Grenfell and the building regulations

Despite promises made on the day, it has inevitably taken some time to help all the residents.   (I assume that by now, they have all been rehoused).  It has also taken some time for the cause of the fire and the background to be investigated.

In December 2021, the Hackitt Review was published, which proposed significant changes in the regulatory framework for residential buildings with 10 storeys or more.  Although it was suggested that the new guidelines should extend further.

Since then, new fire regulations have come into force.  Hopefully, the prospect of future catastrophic fires has retreated.

However, it is clear from the report that ‘self-regulation’ in the industry is not an option. Dame Hackitt suggesting that

some of those who construct buildings treat the minimum standards in the Approved Documents as a high bar to be negotiated down, rather than genuinely owning the principles of a safe building and meeting the outcomes set out in the regulations

We also learned that the companies providing the cladding to Grenfell were less than honest about its safety. It is clear that the cladding was unsuitable, and the company providing it knew this. However, the product continued to be sold despite the known risk.

The other problem was inadequate inspections which failed to pick up the problems. This article makes it clear that inspections were not taken seriously enough by the Council.

John Hoban, a senior building control surveyor at the council which owned the high-rise in west London, sobbed as he described his pain at the deaths of 72 people after the 2017 fire that was fuelled by the cladding system it was his job to inspect.

But he expressed anger at his former employer, condemning the deep austerity cuts that he said led to 10 building inspectors with 230 years of experience between them being replaced with a single new graduate at about the time the refurbishment was taking place. “I don’t believe that was the correct way to run a department,” he said.

Mr Hoban went on to say

If we had a regulatory body like we had with the Greater London council and the regulations and building act and bylaws we had at the time, and a support network of experts that administered the regulations, I don’t think we would be … here talking about people that lost their lives and all these buildings with flammable cladding and the stress and uncertainty that leaves with people living in those buildings now.

I wrote about this in June 2017.

The polluted rivers scandal

We have recently had another scandal break in the news.

Apparently, accordingly to former singer and now environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey, there is not a single river in England which is not polluted.

The problem is not just the water companies – who pay themselves enormous salaries but have failed for years to deal with sewage and arguably also the issue of leaky pipes, properly.

The other problem is that the environment agency, which is supposed to regulate water companies and enforce standards, has lost its power to do this.  Mainly due to budget cuts made when Ms Truss was environment minister.

So we need

  • Regulations – because companies cannot be trusted to ‘do the right thing’, AND
  • Inspections – because if we don’t know about breaches, nothing will be done, AND
  • Sanctions to punish companies when regulations are breached – otherwise, the regulations will be breached with impunity

All three are essential.

Bonfires of regulations have consequences

So am I concerned to note that Ms Truss is determined rid us of all EU regulations by the end of 2023.  Which means, effectively, that the regulations will not be properly checked before they are binned.

I don’t know what regulations are going to be ditched in this way, but I have to say that I am worried.

Regulations, bureaucracy, or ‘red tape’ are often described as a problem.  Something that ‘gets in the way’ of business. However, as is shown by the two examples above, ‘red tape’ is essential for public safety.

Business cannot be trusted to regulate itself.

People don’t make regulations for no reason. I suspect that the EU regulations Ms Truss is anxious to get rid of will include many which provide important rights and protection for the public.

Maybe some of them will be inappropriate for the UK.  But I bet some of them won’t be. Although, if they are going to be binned without being looked at first, we won’t know, will we?

Until, of course, we have another calamity of the scale of Grenfell and our filthy rivers and beaches.

gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Is a bonfire of regulations in reality a bonfire of consumer rights?

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