BRE taskforce was given ‘contractual requirement’ to rubber-stamp flawed regulations

The government “hobbled” a group of fire safety experts appointed to spot flaws in building regulations because of a culture of deregulation, the Grenfell Inquiry has heard.

Ministers gave the Building Research Establishment (BRE) “investigation of real fires project” a “contractual requirement” not to make any policy recommendations.

David Crowder, former head of fire investigation at the BRE, told Wednesday’s hearing that the group’s reports were limited to pointing out “implications” raised by building fires.

The group, which was formed in 1988, would prepare a “few hundred” summaries of fires each year. But in October 2012, the coalition government amended the contract to focus on “monitoring and feedback”.

David Crowder

David Crowder giving evidence to Wednesday’s hearing

Inquiry to the counsel Kate Grange QC asked Crowder: “Did anyone think: how am I going to monitor the effectiveness of the regulations and guidance without being able to point out any parts found to be ineffective?”

Crowder said that although recommendations “weren’t allowed”, the group did use its summaries to try and tease out issues with the building regulations that had been uncovered, a practice he described as “not ideal”.

Grange asked: “And you felt, in practice, hobbled in that way, did you?”

Crowder said: “Yes, though not specifically in relation to this contract. It goes back to the wider piece about the state of government research in relation to fire safety. It was part of… the atmosphere, if you like, around where fire safety under building regulations was going at that time.”

The inquiry has already heard from a lawyer representing the bereaved and survivors of the Grenfell fire that the coalition government had wanted to cut red tape on housebuilders so that more homes could be built.

Stephanie Barwise QC said in December that an “unbridled passion for deregulation” had resulted in the government allowing itself to become the “junior partner” to the construction industry.

However, Crowder admitted that the investigations group had routinely used its reports to endorse existing regulations even before the 2012 amendment of the contract.

The inquiry heard that between 2001 and 2015 the group had effectively copy and pasted the same conclusions into its final reports “reaffirming the overall effectiveness of the building regulations”.

Grange asked: “Long before there was this change in October 2012 which prevented the BRE from making any policy recommendations, for year after year after year, the report was producing the same conclusion with the same wording; yes?”

Crowder said: “Yes.” He added that while the conclusions suggested that a “total rewrite” of building regulations was not needed, they were accompanied by “specific findings in relation to certain subject areas”.

Asked by Grange if the conclusions could have been “a lot clearer”, Crowder replied: ”Yeah, I understand the point.”

The hearing was also told that the project came under pressure by the coalition government to cut its budget by 20%.

Grange asked: “This project was flawed in a number of respects, wasn’t it? Do you accept that?” Crowder replied: “Yes.”

The inquiry continues.