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Grenfell | The investigations begin

Grenfell pa (50)

With several major inquiries and reviews having been announced looking into different aspects of the Grenfell Tower fire, there is a complex timeline of concurrent work which could impact other inquiries.

The four key inquiries:

The public inquiry

On 15 June, the day after the blaze which killed at least 80 people, prime minister Theresa May announced a public inquiry into the fire would take place, alongside the criminal investigation.

More than a month later the terms of reference for the inquiry have still not been decided after the consultation period deadline was pushed back twice to give survivors and others more time to respond. The latest deadline was passing as this issue went to press.

But we do know who will chair the inquiry. Retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick was appointed on 29 June. His appointment has not gone down well with some residents, who heckled him during a public meeting in July and expressed concerns that the inquiry’s remit will be too limited. There have been wider calls for him to step down, partly due to his “establishment” background, but his track record shows nothing other than a fair and balanced approach.

Once the consultation deadline has passed, Moore-Bick will make a recommendation on the scope of the inquiry to the prime minister, who will then set the terms. This will take place over the next two weeks. After that, the inquiry can begin properly. All organisations and people who have been identified as important, which could include the council, will be written to, and notified that they will be expected to provide evidence.

In September core participants will be appointed to the inquiry. These people, likely to include survivors of the fire, will be able to question key witnesses. Later in the autumn the first evidence hearings will take place, beginning with survivors and other residents.

Proceedings could be delayed by the concurrent criminal investigation. The Metropolitan Police has so far collected around 4TB of data, equivalent to 20M boxes of paper, but it does not expect anyone to be questioned under caution until autumn.

Although it is too early to say exactly how the inquiry will be affected, its terms could well be changed to avoid overlap or parts of the inquiry could be postponed. Given that the criminal investigation will likely take some time, this could well be unpopular with the public.

The building regulations inquiry

Led by manufacturers’ organisation EEF chair and former chair of the Health & Safety Executive Dame Judith Hackitt, this inquiry will look at current building regulations and fire safety with a particular focus on high rise residential buildings.

There has already been some controversy about Hackitt’s appointment: according to The Times, she resigned from her position as director of the Energy Saving Trust just 24 hours before she was appointed to lead the inquiry by communities secretary Sajid Javid. The Energy Saving Trust lists several insulation products on its website which contain polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam, used on Grenfell Tower. However, Hackitt told The Times she had no role in the products’ approval.

The inquiry was set up by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) following recent fire safety tests on cladding samples led by the Building Research Establishment. Almost 200 samples of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, similar to that used in the recent Grenfell refurbishment, failed the first round of testing, while the first large-scale cladding system also failed tests.

The inquiry will report jointly to the communities secretary Sajid Javid and the home secretary Amber Rudd. Overall it will examine: the regulatory system around the design, construction and ongoing management of buildings in relation to fire safety; the related compliance and enforcement issues around regulations; and international regulation and experience in this area.

The terms of reference will be set once the public inquiry has had its own terms of reference set. An interim report will be presented by the end of the year, and a final one released no later than spring 2018.

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) review

A review rather than an inquiry, 36 built environment professional bodies will come together under the banner of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) to carry out an extensive review of procurement, design and construction practices in housing, with a view to providing recommendations on fire safety.

It will inform the main public inquiry in the autumn, when it begins its evidence-hearing sessions. “It’s an overview of the entire system, looking at every facet of it, and where we feel it can or should be improved we will be making recommendations,” said CIC chair John Nolan when the review was announced in July.

The CIC is also one third of an Industry Response Group which will help give advice to the government and industry if changes are made to building regulations following fire testing and the regulations review.

The ICE review

The ICE is conducting a review into the risks of a catastrophic incident happening in the infrastructure industry. Past ICE president Peter Hansford will chair the review, which will not examine the Grenfell Tower fire but instead look at the industry’s areas of weakness highlighted by the tragedy.

Unlike the CIC’s review into procurement practices in housing, the ICE review will focus solely on infrastructure. It will not inform the government’s inquiries, but instead will investigate past failings in the industry and what lessons can be learnt from them.

Other areas will include system-related risks, responsibility for management of assets, how guidance is implemented and managed, and how professional roles and culture affects catastrophic incident risk. It will be published by October, although the deadline could be extended depending on what information comes out of the public inquiry.

Hansford told New Civil Engineer that although it is too early to tell what could come out of the review, it was right to begin the investigation this soon after the Grenfell Tower fire.

“We all have 20/20 hindsight so of course you could always do these things at an earlier stage,” he said when the review was launched.

“I think the time is right, I think this incident has shocked the nation, shocked the profession, shocked the industry.”

 

Likely timeline

September CIC review reports in time to inform official inquiry

October ICE review reports

December Building regulations inquiry interim report published

Spring 2018 Building regulations inquiry final report

 

 

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