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Two years on from Grenfell only a few lessons have been learnt

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A commentary on the ongoing search for answers following the fire in Grenfell tower

Two years after 72 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire, a neighbouring building carried a message.

The Grenfell United survivors support group illuminated nearby tower block Frinstead House with the words: “2 years after Grenfell this building still has no sprinklers”.

Understandably those who lost family, friends, homes and possessions want to see quick action both to help them and to prevent any recurrence.

The inquiry into the fire has though completed only its first phase - concerning the night of the fire - and will not report until October.

A second phase dealing with how Grenfell Tower came to be in such a dangerous state is not due to start until January 2020, meaning conclusions are unlikely until well after the third anniversary of the blaze.

There has been some criticism of its chair, retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, for being a patrician figure remote from the communities affected.

It may be though that an expired judge who declines to have experts pull the wool over his eyes is what is needed for the second phase.

Kensington & Chelsea RBC can expect some awkward questions, even if control of Grenfell rested with its now defunct tenant management organisation.

Grenfell has already ended several political and professional careers in the borough and more may follow if phase two establishes who did (or more to the point didn’t) do what.

When disaster strikes its common to say that lessons must be learnt. But a report to the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board this week suggests limits to this.

Among much else, it complains that the government plans inadequate fire safety tests on non-aluminium cladding materials (not the materials used at Grenfell, but still in need of testing in light of the weaknesses of the previous testing regime that were exposed by the dreadful fire), that a programme to test and remediate glass reinforced plastic fire doors is underfunded and that little has been done about the fire safety of buildings made from large panel systems.

The latter are best known for Newham LBC’s Ronan Point block, which partly collapsed in an explosion in 1968. The LGA report revealed that no one is certain how many similar buildings still stand.

Advisory body the Fire Protection Association called this week for “some immediate change” to prevent another Grenfell.

It said: “The government’s changes to building regulations and the so-called ban on combustible cladding do not go far enough in protecting buildings and the people who live in them, from fire”, and proposed numerous technical reforms.

Two years on the survivors have been rehoused and this week help to buy homes was announced.

No doubt much else is going on to try to prevent any repetition.

But Frinstead House is not alone in lacking sprinklers, and survivors will still be lacking answers for a long time.

Mark Smulian, contributor

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