New watchdog set up to ban dangerous building materials

Over three and half years after the shocking loss of life in the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government is finally to set up a regulatory body charged with banning dangerous building materials and prosecuting the companies making them.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the new regulator for construction products was prompted by evidence at the public inquiry into the tragedy, which revealed “dishonest practice by some manufacturers” and “deliberate attempts to game the system and rig the results of safety tests”.

Not surprisingly the move was criticised as coming too late, irrelevant to current safety problems and because of its focus on future building, it will not help the many thousands of people currently trapped in hundreds of unsafe residential buildings which they are unable to sell.

The new watchdog is to be part of the Office for Product Safety and Standards (which already exists) where it is expected “to encourage and enforce compliance”. Offences could be punished with fines or imprisonment, for up to three months at present.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the regulator would have “strong enforcement powers including the ability to conduct its own product-testing when investigating concerns”. The Government is also exploring ways to exclude companies that “have played the system” from future contracts funded with taxpayer money.

A spokesman for MHCLG said the new regulator would start work “in due course” and “in shadow form” before going fully functional with its new powers after the Building Safety Bill was passed. No date was given for this, but it is expected to happen during the course of this year. It will work with the Building Safety Regulator and Trading Standards to encourage and enforce compliance.

Among its critics are the UK Cladding Action Group and Grenfell United, which represents bereaved and survivors from the fire. A representative of the latter said: “A new regulator doesn’t fix what is out there already. It’s been three and a half years and the Government still hasn’t come up with a plan to get dangerous materials off homes.

By Patrick Mooney, Editor