TIME TO GRIEVE THEN REASSESS

One of the many unpalatable truths about this horrifying incident is that a refurbishment commissioned to improve the building’s condition for residents may have contributed to its vulnerability during the fire.

The UK has an international reputation for the strict nature of our fire and building regulations. So much so, in fact, that projects delivered in countries where there are no mandatory regulatory requirements often follow UK guidelines as a benchmark of best practice.

However, while the nation mourns the loss of so many families in the Grenfell Tower disaster, the focus must first be on supporting those affected and helping them through their loss of loved ones, their homes and everything they held dear.

Beneath the sorrow and sympathy, however, there is already a determination that a tragedy like this must never be allowed to happen again. To make that promise, Government, experts, legislative bodies and the construction sector must now pull together to investigate the cause of the fire thoroughly and put measures in place to ensure effective standards address any lessons that can be learned and put new best practice guidance in place.

Despite huge speculation in the media, it is too soon to establish why the fire took hold so ruthlessly and destroyed the building so rapidly. It is likely that there will have been a combination of factors, which may include the building materials specified, the construction methods used and the building and or fire regulations that failed to address the level of risk for such a high occupancy tall building.

Part of the task now will be to look at our standards again with a critical eye and respond honestly and rapidly to the questions of whether they are comprehensive enough, and whether they are implemented effectively and consistently with complete accountability for all checks and compliance.

As a social housing scheme on a limited budget, a project of that nature is particularly susceptible to ‘value engineering’.  While the principle of engineering a specification to deliver the best performance for the available budget is a useful strategy for both client and contractor, Grenfell Tower must become an enduring reminder of the potential human cost if corners are cut to make financial savings.

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