By Hefin Rees Edwards
The Senedd’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has received communications regarding fire safety in privately owned, high-rise buildings in Wales following the Grenfell disaster occured in June 2017.
The Committee has since published a report concerning general aspects of Welsh fire safety such as planning and construction, fire doors and fire risk assessments, which they believe are currently unsatisfactory. The report also expressed concerns over the continued use of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding, such as that used on the Grenfell tower.
The Committee recommended that a new law be passed to replace the current Fire Safety Law in Wales enacted in 2005. The new law would include introducing minimum standards, which would have to be met when undertaking fire risk assessments. In addition, these assessments would have to be taken at least once a year in high-rise buildings.
Thirteen other recommendations were also made to the Welsh government, including that owners of private high-rise buildings should be encouraged or incentivised to install sprinkler systems; all fire doors should provide at least 30 minutes of protection in the event of a fire; and fire and rescue services should be involved early in the planning and building of high-rise buildings.
Assembly Members want to see action taken by the Welsh Government to reinforce fire safety, in an attempt to prevent another Grenfell-style fire. The chairman of the Committee, John Griffiths AM, has stated the committee “want to see further urgent action from the Welsh Government”, insisting that “legislation should be brought forward as soon as possible” to improve fire safety standards in Wales.
Last March it was discovered that six high-rise blocks of flats in Cardiff had failed fire safety tests. It was discovered that the cladding, which was first installed in the 1990s, failed combustibility standards, although not the same as the ACM cladding used on Grenfell. However, Andy Fry, the Chief Fire, Rescue Advisor and Inspector for Wales, said that interim work had been enacted on those buildings to increase fire safety.
The Committee has also reported hearing that on some high-rise properties in Wales, the materials used in construction were not approved during the planning phase. In order to rectify this, they also recommended to the Senedd that more on-site inspections should occur during construction to prevent malpractice.
The Welsh Government responded to the Committee’s report by stating it has established an expert group to consider how to improve its approach to building safety. A spokesperson for the government also said: “We continue to work closely with our partners including landlords, owners and managing agents, the Welsh Fire and Rescue Services and local authorities to ensure specific issues are addressed”.
The Committee’s report only covers privately owned high-rise buildings, as buildings owned by Councils and housing associations fall under different laws and regulations. With the tragedy at Grenfell still fresh in the Welsh public’s mind, AMs know that a failure to act by the Welsh Government could risk a similar incident occurring here in Wales.