Housing secretary stops short of announcing ban

James Brokenshire

James Brokenshire speaking in the Commons today

New housing secretary James Brokenshire has announced a government consultation on banning combustible cladding in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s final report on building safety.

The report, which was released today, was commissioned in the wake of last June’s Grenfell Tower tragedy which claimed 72 lives.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Brokenshire said: “Let me be clear. The cladding on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations. It should not have been used. But I will ensure there is no room for doubt over what materials can be used safely in the cladding of high rise residential buildings.

“Having listened carefully to concerns the government will consult on banning the use of combustible materials and cladding systems on high rise residential buildings.”

Despite not recommending a ban on combustible cladding in her final report, Hackitt said this morning she would support Brokenshire if he decided a ban was the best way forward.

He was rumoured to be about to announce this but instead revealed the consultation.

He also invited “everyone involved” to contact the government before the end of July.

The current system was not fit for purpose, he said, backing Hackitt’s call for a regulatory culture in which the “onus is more clearly on everyone involved to manage the risk they create at every stage and government doing more to set and enforce high standards”.

He said: “In too many cases people who should be accountable for fire safety have failed in their duties. In future the government will ensure those responsible for a building must demonstrate they have taken decisive action to reduce building safety risk and be held to account.”

He added: “We agree the system should be overseen by a stronger regulatory framework including stronger powers to inspect high-rise buildings and sanctions to tackle irresponsible behaviour.

“We agree there should be no buck-passing between different parts of the industry, and that everyone needs to work together to change the system.”

Brokenshire also said he “would not hesitate” to ban the use of desktop studies to assess cladding studies if the consultation, which is open until May 25, “does not demonstrate they can be used safely”. “Inappropriate use of desktop studies is unacceptable.”

Private sector housing bodies have also been put on notice, with the housing secretary demanding they act to address unsafe cladding issues without passing the cost on to tenants.

He said: “I find it outrageous that some private sector landlords have been slow to cooperate with us on this vital work. I am calling on them to do the right thing.

“And if they don’t I am not ruling anything out at this stage.”