Daily Mail

SO DID AN OB­SES­SION WITH GREEN TAR­GETS LEAD TO IN­FERNO?

- By Ross Clark Ad­di­tional re­port­ing: Colin Fer­nan­dez and Ben Spencer

STRIN­GENT govern­ment tar­gets to slash green­house gas emis­sions were be­hind the de­ci­sion to clad the Gren­fell Tower.

The lo­cal coun­cil, Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea, said ‘the en­ergy ef­fi­ciency re­fur­bish­ment’ last year was a key part of plans to cut car­bon emis­sions. A

doc­u­ment out­lin­ing the ra­tio­nale for over­haul­ing the build­ing, drawn up in 2012, said that ‘im­prov­ing the in­su­la­tion lev­els of the walls, roof and win­dows is the top pri­or­ity of this re­fur­bish­ment’.

Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea, in com­mon with all coun­cils in the UK, has been un­der huge pres­sure to re­duce the amount of car­bon diox­ide that is pro­duced.

De­mands to cut emis­sions stem from the 2008 Cli­mate Change Act. Brought in by Gor­don Brown’s Labour govern­ment, it is widely ac­knowl­edged to be the tough­est anti- cli­mate change leg­is­la­tion in the world.

It com­mits the UK to a legally bind­ing tar­get to cut green­house gas emis­sions by 80 per cent by 2050, from 1990 lev­els. To meet this tar­get, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are ex­pected to do all they can to re­duce en­ergy use.

Even be­fore the Cli­mate Change Act be­came law, Lon­don’s Labour mayor Ken Liv­ing­stone was urg­ing lo­cal coun­cils to slash CO2 lev­els.

He set a tar­get in 2007 for lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to cut the cap­i­tal’s car­bon diox­ide emis­sions by 60 per cent by 2025.

His suc­ces­sor, Boris John­son, re­peated the de­mand.

Stress­ing how im­por­tant it was to make old build­ings ‘greener’, a mayor’s re­port in 2013 states an ‘en­ergy ef­fi­ciency retro­fit is es­sen­tial to meet­ing the mayor’s tar­gets’.

In 2016 Kens­ing­ton coun­cil is­sued its En­ergy and Cli­mate Change Ac­tion Plan which said the ren­o­va­tion of Gren­fell Tower would ‘di­rectly re­duce car­bon diox­ide’, ‘re­duce pol­lu­tion’ and al­low the coun­cil to ‘lead by ex­am­ple’.

As well as cladding, the re­fur­bish­ment in­cluded mak­ing win­dows dou­ble-glazed and in­stalling new en­ergy ef­fi­cient boil­ers and heat ex­changer units in flats.

An­other fac­tor in the de­ci­sion to re­fur­bish the tower was aes­thet­ics. A plan­ning doc­u­ment for the re­gen­er­a­tion says that ‘ the changes to the ex­ist­ing tower will im­prove its ap­pear­ance es­pe­cially when viewed from the sur­round­ing area’, in par­tic­u­lar the Lad­broke Grove con­ser­va­tion site.

But ques­tions have been raised about the safety of some of these changes. Fit­ting ex­ter­nal cladding to a tower block may make it more ‘en­ergy ef­fi­cient’, but it can also be lethal. Plas­tic in­su­la­tion ma­te­ri­als such as those used at Gren­fell Tower are flammable. Wit­nesses say the cladding caught fire ‘like match­sticks’.

And ex­perts have drawn at­ten­tion to other fires around the world – from Dubai to Aus­tralia – which have been made worse thanks to flammable cladding fixed to the out­side of build­ings.

But not only that: ven­ti­la­tion ducts be­hind the cladding help to cre­ate a ‘chim­ney ef­fect’, mean­ing the fire spreads rapidly up­wards.

Then, when the in­su­la­tion ma­te­rial burns, it starts fall­ing off the build­ing in large – mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for fire­fight­ers to ac­cess the area. When it was built in 1974, Gren­fell Tower had a bare, non-com­bustible con­crete ex­te­rior.

There have been plenty of fires in tower blocks over the years, but none fin­ished in con­crete has ever suf­fered a fire on the scale of that seen on Wednesday. So why are we turn­ing rel­a­tively fire­proof build- ings into death traps? The an­swer is that the prac­tice is just one of many dan­ger­ous follies – not least the of­fi­cial en­dorse­ment of diesel cars whose emis­sions kill thou­sands of peo­ple a year – caused by the pub­lic pol­icy agenda which el­e­vates cli­mate change above vir­tu­ally all other con­sid­er­a­tions.

The Cli­mate Change Act means the Govern­ment is for­ever scram­bling for ways of trim­ming a few per cent off emis­sions. Never mind that these ill- con­ceived poli­cies can have se­vere ad­verse ef­fects. In the rush to make old tower blocks con­form – through im­proved in­su­la­tion – to the en­ergy per­for­mance of more mod­ern build­ings, the risk of cladding wors­en­ing a fire has been over­looked, de­spite mul­ti­ple warn­ings. The 2012 ‘sus­tain­abil­ity and en­ergy state­ment’ for the re­fur­bish­ment of Gren­fell Tower dis­cusses how the cladding will help the build­ing ex­ceed the in­su­la­tion stan­dards laid out in the Govern­ment’s Code for Sus­tain­able Homes and some­thing called ‘EcoHomes’ stan­dards.

Yet it con­tains noth­ing as­sess­ing fire risk. This prob­lem can be traced back to the ‘De­cent Homes Stan­dards’ in­tro­duced by the Blair govern­ment in 2000.

These stan­dards de­creed ev­er­more strin­gent en­vi­ron­men­tal rules. Yet there were no of­fi­cial stan­dards on fire risk – just a duty on the land­lord to con­duct a risk as­sess­ment, which was then sup­posed to be checked with the fire bri­gade. Between 2000 and 2010, £22bil­lion of govern­ment money was spent on the De­cent Homes pro­gramme, on re­fur­bish­ments like the one at at Gren­fell Tower.

Since then, a fur­ther £1.6bil­lion has been spent bring­ing the re­main­ing homes up to the re­quired en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

As a re­sult, quick fixes to im­prove the en­ergy per­for­mance of old build­ings have be­come an earner for cladding com­pa­nies, which can charge £3 mil­lion for cov­er­ing a build­ing the size of Gren­fell Tower.

Theresa May has or­dered a pub­lic in­quiry into the fire, and the events of Wednesday morn­ing may be re­vealed to be one of the big­gest scan­dals of re­cent years.

‘Caught fire like match­sticks’ ‘Fin­ished in bru­tal con­crete’

 ??  ?? Charred: The melted cladding on the side of Gren­fell Tower
Charred: The melted cladding on the side of Gren­fell Tower
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