In this day and age when space in city centres is limited we build upwards. Tower blocks frame the skyline in a majority, if not all, of UK cities. Their uses range from residential and office blocks to hospitals and education buildings.
So it comes as a great disappointment to hear architect and fire expert, Sam Webb, saying breaches of fire safety standards in the UK are common and lessons from Lakanal House have not been learned.
“A disaster waiting to happen,” is how the architect and fire expert Sam Webb describes hundreds of tower blocks across the UK, after the fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington that has left a number of people dead. “We are still wrapping postwar high-rise buildings in highly flammable materials and leaving them without sprinkler systems installed, then being surprised when they burn down.”
Webb surveyed hundreds of residential tower blocks across the country in the early 1990s and presented a damning report to the Home Office, which revealed that more than half of the buildings didn’t meet basic fire safety standards. He said: “We discovered a widespread breach of safety, but we were simply told nothing could be done because it would ‘make too many people homeless’.
“I really don’t think the building industry understands how fire behaves in buildings and how dangerous it can be. The government’s mania for deregulation means our current safety standards just aren’t good enough.”
A 2015 survey by the Fire Sector Federation, a forum for fire and rescue organisations, found that 92% of its members believed the regulations were “long overdue an overhaul”, claiming that they do not reflect today’s design and construction methods and that research underpinning the guidance is out of date.
Any building constructed after 2007 that is taller than 30 metres is required to have sprinkler systems fitted to comply with the requirements of Approved Document B of the Building Regulations. All existing tower blocks must have them fitted if a fundamental change is made to the structure or use of the building.
A sad fact is that fewer than 1% of council tower blocks are fitted with sprinklers.
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