Commons committee hearings about the Grenfell Tower fire

While media is mainly following the large ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the House of Commons’ select committee for housing, communities and local government, chaired by MP Clive Betts, is running another Grenfell inquiry, which is focussed of finding solutions for the future, be it tougher building regulations or better relations between councils and their tenants.

Fortunately, just like the official Grenfell Inquiry, all the committee sessions are broadcast live by Parliament TV and the transmissions are archived and available afterwards at the Parliament TV website.

On 17 May, the committee questioned Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, for two hours on her final report, which was published the same day. Her conclusion, that there should be a ‘light-touch outcomes-based’ approach to building regulations, was highly criticised by the committee, which afterwards wrote to the Secretary of State James Brokenshire, calling for an immediate ban on the use of combustible cladding in high-rise buildings, instead of waiting for the result of a consultation into banning the use of combustible materials, which the government had mentioned earlier the same day and publicly announced on 20 June.

On 20 June, the committee held another two hour session looking at the local authority support for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, mainly the rehousing efforts.

The first hour they interviewed representatives for the residents: Edward Daffarn and Natasha Elcock from Grenfell United, Jacqui Haynes and Tomassina Hessel from Lancaster West Residents Association, and Sophie Earnshaw from North Kensington Law Centre. The second hour it was the council leader, Elizabeth Campbell, and the RBKC chief executive, Barry Quirk, who were questioned by the MPs in the committee.

The representatives of the residents were, not surprisingly, very critical to the council’s initial response. They said that the council initially had been desperate to to re-house everyone as quickly as possible, resulting in many inappropriate homes being bought and many of the homeless feeling pressured to take whatever the council officers showed them.

Barry Quirk agreed that there were many mistakes made in the beginning: “What we had, were offers of properties from people that simply weren’t suitable. We were desperately trying to solve a problem that actually added to the problem of mistrust. In a sense, we were trying the classic problem of trying to hit a target but missing the point – desperately trying to get as many properties as possible […] and make them available without genuinely appreciating the depth of grief and despair and trauma that people were subject to. Housing was the first priority, but it’s not the overwhelming priority, the overwhelming priority is humanitarian. 

On 27 June, the committee held its first evidence session regarding building regulations and fire safety, as part of its follow-up to Dame Hackitt’s report. It first interviewed three representatives from the insulation manufacturing industry and the director for the Royal Institute of British Architects, and then went on to hear three representatives for products testing authorities and the chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council’s fire safety committee. The intention was to also hear representatives from public and private building owners as well as the head of the Association of British Insurer that day, but it was decided to move that hearing to Monday 2 July.

On 17 May, the committee questioned Dame Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, for two hours about her final report which was published the same day. Video ends at 17:20:42.

At the 20 June hearing, the first hour was spent interviewing the five representatives for the residents: Edward Daffarn and Natasha Elcock from Grenfell United, Jacqui Haynes and Tomassina Hessel from Lancaster West Residents Association, and Sophie Earnshaw from North Kensington Law Centre. Video ends at 10:36:58.

During the second session on 20 June, the committee heard the council leader, Elizabeth Campbell, and the RBKC chief executive, Barry Quirk. Video ends at 11:32:15.

At the 27 June hearing, the first panel of to be interviewed consisted of Peter Caplehorn, deputy chief executive and policy director at Construction Products Association, Mirella Vitale, head of marketing and PR at Rockwool, Richard Burnley, MD for Britain and Ireland at Kingspan Insulation, and Adrian Dobson, executive director at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Video ends at 10:28:21.

The second panel to be heard at the 27 June session consisted of Dr Debbie Smith, MD for BRE Global, Claire Curtis-Thomas, CEO for the British Board of Agrément, Mark Hardingham, chair for the National Fire Chiefs Council’s protection & safety committee, and Sir Ken Knight, chair of the Independent Expert Advisory Panel. Video ends at 11:45:41.

Published 2018-06-27