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Yesterday, AMs discussed the Communities Committee report on fire safety in private high-rise residential buildings – an inquiry triggered by the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster.
There continue to be concerns
“Initially, we focused on the social housing sector. After taking evidence from the key partners and the Welsh Government, we were reassured that the necessary steps were being taken, but, as we continued to look at fire safety in more detail, it became increasingly clear that, in the private sector, there continued to be concerns—for example, ACM cladding on buildings less than a stone’s throw away from the Senedd.”
– Chair of the Communities Committee, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East)
The Chair said that everyone who gave evidence to the Committee took their fire safety responsibilities seriously, but there were concerns that some parts of the sector may not be properly competent and cut corners.
The headline recommendation of the Committee was a new fire safety law (in particular to clear up whether front doors to flats count as part of the communal area covered by fire regulations), but he was frustrated that this may not happen in this current Assembly.
Current system “not fit for purpose”
Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) described the report as a landmark and hoped for continuous updates of progress made towards implementing the Committee’s recommendations.
“Something that was very clear to me….throughout the evidence sessions was that the current system simply isn’t fit for purpose. And it’s painful that it took an event like the Grenfell fire for us to realise that, but it does, I think, mean that we have to have a comprehensive and robust approach now to reform in this area.”
– David Melding AM
Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) found a number of the Committee’s finding’s shocking, in particular, the fact that basic health and safety standards didn’t seem to apply to housing for low-income households as well as the fact materials banned for use in high-rise buildings in France and Germany were still being used in the UK.
Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) said it was a disgrace that people affected by the Grenfell disaster still haven’t been rehoused by one of the richest councils in the UK. She called for stronger enforcement of building regulations by the government.
A critical but complex subject
Replying on behalf of the Welsh Government, Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West) said it was a critical but very complex area. The Welsh Government are considering how to implement the recommendations of a report by Dame Judith Hackitt which was commissioned by the UK Government following the Grenfell disaster.
The Minister did, however, refused to commit to a new fire safety law in the current Assembly term:
“I want to be able to say that we can do it (new fire safety law) within this Assembly term. We certainly would love to, but I think it’s very important to get the system right, so, to make sure that we have covered off all other gaps that exist in the current legislation, we’ve explored all the possibilities. So I’m not going to commit to that other than to say I share the ambition, but whether or not we’ll be able to do that, I don’t know.”
– Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James
She promised to keep AMs updated on future developments and civil servants were already working on short, medium and long-term proposals.