LONDON – The British government is partly to blame for the Grenfell fire which killed 72 people in 2017 as building regulations were deficient and could be exploited by developers in a way that was unsafe, housing minister Michael Gove said on Sunday.
In June 2017, Grenfell Tower, a 23-storey social housing block in west London, was destroyed by a fire started by an electrical fault in a refrigerator, Britain’s deadliest fire in a residential building since World War Two.
A combustible cladding system retro-fitted to the tower’s external walls was the main factor in the unstoppable spread of the flames, and the disaster prompted a wave of soul-searching over whether neglect of an ethnically mixed, largely low-income community had played a part in the tower’s fate.
Gove told the Sunday Times that building guidance was “so faulty and ambiguous that it allowed unscrupulous people to exploit a broken system in a way that led to tragedy.”
“I think that if you look at what happened to Grenfell, there were lots of factors. But yes, government collectively has to take some responsibility,” he separately told Sky News.
“There’s a difference between presiding over a system that’s negligent and actively exploiting it. But it is undeniably the case that the system of building regulation was not right.”
Following the blaze, a public inquiry found numerous faults in the planning and administration of the Grenfell refurbishment, and hundreds of buildings were found to have similar cladding.
Gove, who sits in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet of top ministers, said that people had been “effectively imprisoned” in hundreds of thousands of apartments in buildings identified as having similar faults to Grenfell, with residents not safe but also unable to sell their flats.
“I have and always will apologise to people for the fact that it’s taken this long to sort,” he said, adding some progress had been made.