Fitting sprinklers in tower blocks 'may not be best way to stop fires', says Philip Hammond

Christopher Hope
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond - AFP

Retro-fitting tower blocks which were built decades ago with sprinklers is not always the best way to protect them from fires, a Cabinet minister has said.

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said the Government wants to see the technical advice before deciding whether to go ahead with such a move in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The comments came despite a coroner’s investigation into a similar blaze in 2009 which killed six people in London recommended building regulations be updated, and called for developers refurbishing high-rise blocks to be encouraged to install sprinkler systems.

Residents were trapped "screaming for their lives" as flames raged through a 27-storey tower block in Notting Hill Credit: Eyevine

Leading fire safety experts have said it is not always necessary to retro-fit sprinklers to make a building safe, according to Mr Hammond.

He told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "If the conclusion of a proper technical evaluation is that that is the best way to deal with the problem, then of course.

"But my understanding is that the best expert advice is that retro-fitting sprinklers may not always be the best technical way of ensuring fire safety in a building.

Grenfell Fire Prevention

"If it is, it should be done, but let's get the technical advice, properly evaluated by a public inquiry, and then let's decide how to go forward.

"If there is something that needs to be done to make buildings safe, it will be done."

Told that technical advice is not needed to understand that sprinklers would help tackle fires, he replied: "These are technical questions.”

A banner reading " justice for Grenfell" Credit: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP

It also now emerged that the type of cladding believed to have been used on Grenfell Tower is not permitted on tower blocks.

Current building regulations stipulate that aluminium cladding with a flammable plastic core should not be used in buildings above 18 metres.

That would suggest that the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, which was completed last year, should not have passed building regulations.

Grenfell protesters storm Kensington Town Hall, in pictures

Mr Hammond said the ongoing criminal investigation into the fire, would be exploring whether the building laws had been breached.

He said: "My understanding is the cladding in question, this flammable cladding which is banned in Europe and the US, is also banned here."

In a statement a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government, said: "Cladding using a composite aluminium panel with a polyethylene core would be non-compliant with current Building Regulations guidance.

Grenfell Tower fire in pictures

"This material should not be used as cladding on buildings over 18metres in height."

But there remained some confusion over the issue last night with building industry figures insisting that there was no such ban on the cladding.

John Cowley, managing director of CEP Architectural Facades, which fabricated the rainscreen panels, said: "Current building regulations allow its use in both low-rise and high-rise structures.

"The key question now is whether the overall design of the building's complete exterior was properly tested and subsequently signed off by the relevant authorities including the fire officer, building compliance officer and architect before commencement of the project."

Graphic: Grenfell Tower fire damage
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