Fire services watchdog 'alarmed' by buildings still with Grenfell-style cladding

The head of the fire services watchdog has urged building owners to remove cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower, to help firefighters avoid having to tackle another severe fire.

Sir Thomas Winsor, chief inspector at Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, said it was "alarming" that, more than two years after the Grenfell fire, more than 300 buildings still had the same cladding as the tower.

"Remedial work to remove similar cladding systems, including rainscreens with polyethylene cores, should be done by the building owners as quickly as possible," Sir Thomas said.

"No other fire service should have to tackle a blaze of such severity because of these unsafe materials."

Sir Thomas's comments were made in his first annual assessment of all 45 fire and rescue services in England.

The Grenfell inquiry's phase one report, published in October, found Grenfell Tower's cladding did not comply with building regulations and was the "principal" reason for the fire's rapid spread.

In his own report, Sir Thomas said the firefighters responded to the tower fire in June 2017 with "determination, dedication, courage and commitment".

"They faced a fire of unprecedented severity due to failures in building regulations over the last 20 years," he said.

"They were also let down by failings in planning and preparation, incident command, communication, and working with other emergency services."

Sir Thomas said HMICFRS had "carefully considered" the findings of the Grenfell inquiry's first report, and would include them in its approach to inspection "where appropriate".

He said inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick's recommendations, while directed at the London Fire Brigade, affect every service.

This included firefighter and incident commander training, the use of risk information, working effectively with other emergency services, communication, and learning lessons from previous incidents.

Sir Thomas said recommendations from a review led by Dame Judith Hackitt on building regulations and fire safety should help bring "fundamental changes" to the regulatory system, of which fire and rescue services "are only a small part".

His own report found that fire services were not doing enough to ensure buildings were complying with fire safety regulations.

Inspector Zoe Billingham said this was a result of a "panoply" of reasons, including differences between how services identified "high-risk premises" and arrangements for staff carrying out audits.

She emphasised that immediately after Grenfell, every fire service in England had conducted inspections of high-rise buildings, with the HMICFRS seeing that in its inspections, which were carried out between June 2018 and August 2019.

Ms Billingham said there was a "longer-term issue for fire and rescue services around protection", with them needing to ensure they find high-risk premises, audit them appropriately, and that they had enough trained staff to carry out assessments.