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Grenfell inquiry: Fire safety guidance should ‘perhaps’ have been updated sooner

Bob Ledsome, who works for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, gave evidence at the Grenfell Inquiry.

02 March 2022

A coroner’s warning to update fire safety guidance five years before the Grenfell tragedy should “perhaps” have been acted upon sooner, a Government official has said.

Bob Ledsome, who works for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), has said officials aimed to update the guidance by 2017 and conceded that it could have been done “more quickly”.

Assistant Deputy Coroner Frances Kirkham advised the department to update “Section B4” of its official guide to “building regulations for fire safety”, known as Approved Document B (ADB), on March 28 2013.

She directed the department to make ADB clearer for builders carrying out refurbishments and not just professionals with “a depth of knowledge of building regulations”, especially parts about “the spread of fire over the external envelope of the building”.

Ms Kirkham made the recommendation in response to the 2009 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, London, which resulted in six deaths and at least 20 injuries.

Grenfell Tower was refurbished with new cladding and thermal insulation between 2015 and 2016.

Mr Ledsome was the deputy director of building regulations at the DLUHC, formerly the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), from 2011 until September 2017.

Speaking at the Grenfell Inquiry, he conceded that his department’s decision to revise the entire ADB document instead of initially just Section B4 meant it took longer to reform.

Mr Ledsome said: “We reached a view that the best way forward in delivering an improved ADB as a whole was to conduct the full review.

“And yes, that meant that the judgment we took then from the experience that we had about the length of time that it took to undertake those types of pieces of work – for example research that we would not report until 2016 – that the timescale of 2016 to 2017 was reasonable to suggest for the review of ADB.”

Lead counsel to the inquiry, Richard Millett QC, pointed out that a full revision was “not something the coroner asked for”, and Mr Ledsome conceded that “perhaps” the DLUHC could have acted “more quickly”.

Mr Ledsome said: “I have thought long and hard about this.

“It would not have been a straightforward job just to have done a change to Section B4.

“We would have still had to go through all of that process in terms of justifying costs and benefits, so it would not have been a five-minute job to get a change to ADB out of the door.

“But looking at it now, yes, perhaps we should have taken a harder look at this and been bolder about saying: ‘Actually we can do something more quickly with this, even if it means that all the other things that we’ve got on our plate or priorities we have to say, sorry we’ve got to put those down the track’.

“Clearly, we did not put those options to ministers and perhaps we should.”

Mr Millett pressed Mr Ledsome on the issue, asking: “Given this was a question of life safety, I think the question is: why was that exercise not a matter of utmost priority?”

Mr Ledsome replied: “It’s very difficult for me to say.

“We thought we were doing the right thing in the way that we were trying to approach this recommendation. I accept all that you say about it.”

The inquiry continues.

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