If the Grenfell Tower disaster was not horrific enough, the after-effects – revelations of unsafe cladding and fears that too few sprinkler systems are in place across Portsmouth and the rest of the country – also make for grim reading.
As we report today, the age of the building is not the major issue, as even modern blocks, such as Southdowns View in Hilsea, built within the last five years, have now been found to have defective cladding that is likely to have to be removed.
There are many questions to ask about this. Firstly, how did cladding that would later fail fire safety checks come to be installed?
Was it a matter of cost, or ignorance? It’s important to note that the cladding may not make the building dangerous in and of itself – there may well be other efficient fire safety measures in place, and the three blocks –South Downs View, and Harding House and Ockenden House are nowhere near as tall as Grenfell – but it is still astonishing, in an age which has clearly codified building regulations, that this can happen.
But looking forward, this news will no doubt make everyone who lives or works in a large cladded building feel slightly more uneasy than they did before, and that is why we believe it is important to have more transparency about fire safety, for everyone’s good.
This would take some administration, but it would be helpful to have an open, public, and easy-to-understand register for every building of five storeys or more.
Just as establishments serving food have a star rating system now, why cannot a log of buildings start to be built up, where we the public can see what fire measures it has, whether any cladding has been safety checked, and the last time the fire service has certified the building? Some may moan that this is extra red tape and bureaucracy – but the more openness there is about what should be a public matter, the better. To quote two phrases that have become truisms, knowledge is power, and sunlight is the best disinfectant. As well as making owners of sub-standard buildings pull their socks up, it would reassure others that homes and offices were safe and so is worth investigating.