A year after the Grenfell tragedy we have seen the completion of Dame Judith Hackit’s review of fire safety and building regulations, and the commencement of the first phase of the public inquirey.  Since the earliest days following the tragedy we have highlighted concerns about the fire safety of disabled people in residential blocks.  The Hackitt review concentrates on the need for a “radical rethink” of the regulatory system  that should have prevented the tragedy from happening in the first place, highlighting a culture of “indifference,” in which “the primary motivation is to do things as quickly and as cheaply as possible.” The report doesn’t address questions around the specific standards and measures that should be introduced into building design, construction  and management that are needed.  Dame Judith did however specify that a ’Fire and Emergency file’ should be provided  for high rise residential buildings.  This should give a clear and comprehensive record of the fire strategy for the building and its residents, “including those who are vulnerable.”

At the first day of evidence to the Grenfell Public Inquiry, we heard about the failure of the policy for residents to “stay put.”  We also heard about the ‘fire fighting’ lift that was out of order.  Under these circumstances, it would have rendered the evacuation of residents with mobility impairments very difficult, as ‘fire fighting’ lifts have a vital role to play in getting disabled people out when ‘staying put’ is not an option.  In this light, it would appear that for residents with mobility impairments, withdrawal of the advice to ‘stay put would mean that without access to a ‘fire fighting’ lift, staying put would remain the only option.

On 19th May, the Observer reported that the London Fire Service has withdrawn the ‘stay put’ advice from 101 blocks of flats, owing to the discovery of similar cladding to Grenfell Tower or other structural issues.  It has to be asked; what measures have been put in place for disabled occupants of these buildings if staying put has now been ruled out?

It is imperative that all occupants, including disabled people, living in tower blocks are safe and that those with legal responsibilities under the current regulatory system are fully meeting their obligations.  Aspire is calling on Government to immediately instruct building owners to carry out comprehensive risk assessment of existing occupants, identifying any with additional fire safety needs and to specify measures adopted to support them, such as working evacuation lifts and Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans. 

Whatever the state of the current regulatory system, with all we have learned about Grenfell tower, disabled people living in blocks of flats should surely have the right to expect to be safer than a year ago.