sir – The construction of buildings in London was controlled between 1667 and 1985 by the London Building Acts and associated constructional bylaws.
These were administered by district surveyors, appointed by the superintending architect to the Greater London Council but independent as statutory officers who not only helped write the acts but also had the final say over any forms of construction. Many sections of the bylaws included the phrase “to the satisfaction of the district surveyor”.
The 28 district surveyors (all highly experienced construction professionals, usually both chartered engineers and chartered surveyors), working with the GLC’S buildings regulation department, ensured that all buildings built in the old London County Council area were safely built.
The old maxim in the service was: first, make sure it does not fall down; secondly, make sure that it does not burn down; and thirdly, use your common sense for all other matters.
This excellent service was abolished in 1985 and replaced with the inferior National Building Regulations system. The London district surveyors were not responsible to any council and so could always do what they saw fit, free from political or financial pressure.
The fire at Grenfell Tower would not have occurred under the London Building Acts and bylaws. Proper fire breaks in the cladding would have been insisted on and, more importantly, enforced. Controlling fire-spread was the foundation of the 1667 Act for the Rebuilding of London and its basics were still in place when I stood down as district surveyor for Chelsea in 1983.
No combustible materials would have been allowed on the outside of a building, no cavities in cladding allowed to create vertical fire or air pathways. Vertical and horizontal fire breaks were the foundation of the protection principles.
A building would have been regularly inspected by the respected London Building Regulations Department of the GLC and if found wanting, the owners, whoever they were, would have been prosecuted.
My former district surveyor colleagues will not be surprised that this disaster happened. Whenever politicians and accountants are in ultimate control of complex building matters, in place of experienced construction professionals who do not have to answer to them, we will see more disasters like this one. Terence Jenkins
Tring, Hertfordshire sir – Fighting fires from within tall buildings is extremely difficult.
Truck-mounted hydraulic firefighting platforms in excess of 300ft have been commercially available for at least 20 years and, while they are expensive, not to have at least one of these machines available in the richest city in our nation is a gross oversight. Chris Hardy Dollar, Clackmannanshire
sir – The surveyor Simon Fryer (Letters, June 15), together with a shocked nation, will have seen the flames licking speedily up the very outside walls of Grenfell Tower.
He advocates external steel staircases for such tower-blocks. These may work elsewhere but it seems unlikely that they would have been of use in this tragic case. John Tilsiter Radlett, Hertfordshire
sir – I routinely hear smoke alarms bleeping because no one has changed the battery. I worked with terminally ill people and some have no one to do the job for them. Unfortunately, the local fire service did not help. Gary Martin London E17
sir – While the tower was still burning, Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t resist scoring the basest of political points and blaming it on “the cuts”. Lysette Penston Cookham Dean, Buckinghamshire
Drury Lane theatre burning, 1809, despite an iron safety curtain and rooftop water tanks