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The Grenfell Tower inquiry chaired by the Right Honourable Sir Martin Moore-Bick today released its long awaited Phase 1 Report into the disaster.  The report is a damning indictment into the design, build, and materials of the Tower as well as citing “systematic failings” in how the emergency services dealt with the tragedy.

Of particular note to building owners will be the comments made in relation to combustible cladding which has brought this issue firmly back into the spotlight. Sir Moore-Bick commented that he found the rapid spread of the fire up the building “profoundly shocking”, and that the use of combustible cladding was the “principal reason” why the fire spread so quickly to the whole of the building.

As we have seen from a variety of recent cases, and most recently The Green Quarter case, the cost of replacing combustible cladding has often been deemed a recoverable expense under service charge provisions within some leases. The findings of Sir Moore-Bick in this regard will emphasise the need for building owners to consider leases carefully and deal quickly with any combustible cladding that may be on their building.

Sir Moore-Bick has said that the replacement of cladding is “essential that it be done as quickly as possible” and that “the programme of remedial work should be pursued as vigorously as possible”.  The report also criticised the time in which it had taken for outstanding remedial works to be undertaken with the report asserting that there had been a “slow rate of progress in carrying out the [remedial] works”.

This reiterated the comments made in the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee in July of this year which recommended that due to the slow pace of remedial works, the Government should set a deadline by which time all buildings with any form of dangerous cladding should be fully remediated. As of 30 September 2019, we understand that there were 321 high rise blocks which had not yet replaced their combustible cladding.

Other recommendations which will be of note to those involved in the ownership and management of property, are made particularly in relation to fire safety with the key recommendations being:

  • A law requiring owners and managers of high rise residential buildings to provide their local fire and rescue service with information about the external wall materials and building plans.
  • The implementation of fire doors in all multi occupancy residential properties and for these to be inspected on an urgent basis.
  • That the owners and managers of every high rise residential building be required by law to carry out regular inspections of their lifts at monthly intervals.
  • That the owner and manager of a residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not they are high rise buildings) be required by law to carry out checks at not less than three monthly intervals to ensure that all fire doors are fitted with effective self-closing devices and for current doors to apply to current building standards.

This report is of course only Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Phase 2 will be investigating more thoroughly the culpability of those involved in the issues identified in Phase 1.  It is expected that the Phase 2 inquiry will be open until mid-2021, with a report produced thereafter.

The Grenfell Tower disaster was of course an appalling tragedy and it is only right that an inquiry of this magnitude was undertaken to examine the causes and emphasise that urgent action is required, in particular for other buildings clad with combustible material.  The report makes much of the failures in enforcing building regulation standards and how those standards were not met adding to the inherent risks posed by these types of material and how fundamentally they can undermine the safety of a building.  This comprehensive report will serve as a timely reminder that urgent action is now required for all those involved in the property industry to ensure any type of fire risks associated with cladding are eliminated from the property stock in the UK.

Edwin Coe has experience in dealing with the type of disputes arising from cladding and service charge issues, along with claims brought over leasehold obligations and pursuant to the Defective Premises Act 1972 in defence of a large service charge bill.  They would of course be happy to help any such inquiries.

If you  have any questions about this topic, please contact Joanna Osborne, Tim Clark or any other member of the Property Litigation team.

Previous articles regarding this subject include Fire prevention: the danger of cladding

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