May lays blame for cladding on towers at feet of Blair government

The number of tower blocks with cladding that has failed combustibility tests has risen to 120 across 37 local authorities, Prime Minister Theresa May has said.

“Given the 100% failure rate, we are very clear with local authorities and housing associations they should not wait for test results, they should get on with the job of fire safety checks […] and take any action necessary,” May said.

During prime minister’s questions, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn asked May to confirm if cladding with a combustible core, such as polyethylene, and the cladding on Grenfell Tower was legal.

“My understanding is that this particular cladding was not compliant with building regulations,” May said, but declined to say more due to the ongoing criminal investigation.

She did add: “There is a much wider issue here as we have seen from the number of buildings where the cladding has failed the combustibility test from those samples that have been sent in already from local authorities and housing associations. This is a much wider issue. It’s an issue that has been continuing for many years, for decades, in terms of cladding being put up in buildings. There are real questions as to how this has happened, why it’s happened and how we can ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.

“That is why I am clear that in addition to the inquiry that needs to identify the specific issues for Grenfell tower - what happened in relation to Grenfell tower and who is responsible - we will also need to look much more widely; why it is that over decades under different governments, over different councils, material has been put up on tower blocks that is non-compliant with the regulation.

“It’s not just a question of what laws you have, it is how those they are being applied and that is the issue. We have the building regulations about compliant materials, the question is – why is it that, in local authority after local authority, materials being put up appear not to comply with those building regulations? That is what we need to get to the bottom of.”

May also said that the government hoped to be able to name a judge to head up the public inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower soon.

“The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition government; cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government,” he said.

In response to the accusation that cuts to local authority and fire brigade budgets, and changes to fire safety regulations, was putting people at risk, May said: “In 2005, it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirement to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority, which was usually the local fire brigade to a responsible person. 

“The legislation governing fire safety in tower blocks - and this was commented on by the Lakanal house report into that fire - criticised that 2005 order that had been put in place by the Labour government. Laws which took effect in 2006 ended the practise of routine fire service inspections passing the responsibility onto councils.”