Grenfell and the Sustainability Agenda

 

As fire service workers and trained dogs pick their way through the grim, charred remains of Grenfell Tower, we are left to contemplate what directly caused the tragedy, what circumstances might have made it more likely to happen and what we can do now and in the future to prevent such a catastrophe from occurring again. The immediate response, especially from Corbyn’s Labour party and its supporters, has been nothing short of hysterical and scandalous. They have shamelessly politicized a tragedy, deliberately turning the narrative away from the contemplation of what caused the fire to a rabble-rousing anti-austerity rhetoric which bizarrely has attempted to lay the blame for the fire firmly at the feet of Mrs May and Tory cut backs in public services, whilst also re-igniting the age old class divide between the haves and the have nots, spinning events as somehow being the terrifying result of the poor not being able to purchase their safety or make their voice heard above rich, Tory snobs intent on making the little people live in dangerous high-rises whilst they live in posh, spacious town houses and mansions in the country. Nobody spins this narrative better than the Guardian. It is, of course, utterly and completely false, but that’s not where I intend to go here. Intrepid miners of the truth will find a rich seam of weapons grade mineral hypocrisy if they care to tread that path.

What I want to look at is what basically caused the fire and what caused it to spread so quickly; I quote, ‘spreading from the 4th floor to the 18th floor in just eight minutes’. We are now aware that the fire started in a man’s flat, supposedly because his fridge ‘exploded’.  We know this resident packed his bags, knocked on his neighbour’s door to inform them there was a ‘small fire’ in his kitchen (neighbour called the fire brigade), then buggered off, leaving his flat door open, seemingly making no effort whatsoever to contain the blaze. So we might have the first part of the puzzle in place, i.e.

  1. Criminally stupid & irresponsible resident’s response to exploding fridge.

A sprinkler system might have doused the small fire, but apparently the residents’ committee didn’t want one installed and they are not mandatory in high rises, which is quite bizarre. Another piece of the puzzle:

2. No sprinkler system

So the fire spread – quickly. Presumably, the fire brigade were called immediately by the neighbour and they took six minutes to arrive. 2 minutes after that, the fire had leapt up to the 18th floor and was effectively an uncontrollable inferno. Why?

We now know that the core material of the aluminium-clad thermal insulating panels which had been fixed to the outside of the building was the standard, plastic type, not the fire resistant type, which would have cost a measly £2 extra per square metre. Using fire-resistant rain screen thermal insulation cladding on the exterior may have bought the fire brigade those extra critical few minutes to contain the spread of the blaze. It seems likely that the guy whose fridge exploded left a window open, allowing the fire to spread quickly to the external cladding. So the third piece of the puzzle falls into place:

3. Combustible cladding fixed to the exterior of the building during the recent renovation.

There was an air gap between the original building walls and the interior face of the panels. Apparently, no effective firebreaks were in place at regular intervals in this air gap so the fire could have just freely spread very rapidly upwards along this ‘combustion chimney. Hence the final piece of the puzzle:

4. Air gap with no firebreaks = ‘combustion chimney’

These are the essential elements of the tragedy which, combined, had such tragic and devastating consequences for the residents of Grenfell Tower on that fateful day. There’s not much room for blaming Tory cuts to services or posh people in general, dumping on the lower class poor. Or is there? Yes, of course there is. Firstly, the hard pressed fire brigade might have got there even quicker if their members were paid more and they might have been able to tackle the fire more effectively with those new, 300ft high non-existent ladders which austerity prevented them from purchasing and equipping their fire engines with. Also, the only reason the panels were put up in the first place was because posh neighbours across the road complained about the ‘eyesore’ of the old building, so they decided to make it prettier with shiny new powder-coated aluminium panels. Er, no, actually.

Whereas cosmetic enhancement may have featured, it most certainly was not the main impetus for renovating Grenfell Tower, or any of the other numerous 1960s/70s high rises in London and other big cities for that matter. So what was? This might give us a clue.

EUR Lex 32012L0027 EN EUR Lex

It’s lifted from the EU Energy Efficiency Directive 2012 which, in the words of the European Commission, “establishes a set of binding measures to help the EU reach its 20% energy efficiency target by 2020. Under the Directive, all EU countries are required to use energy more efficiently at all stages of the energy chain, from production to final consumption”.

So, Grenfell  Tower, and others, have been ‘renovated’ with flammable insulating panels not because posh people demanded they were given a make-over, but because bureaucrats in Brussels demanded that buildings in public ownership be made more energy efficient in order to reduce CO2 emissions and save the planet from man-made climate catastrophe. So if you’re searching for a political mark on which to pin some blame for this awful tragedy, look no further than EU imposed ‘green’ emissions reductions targets. Flammable core material is banned on high rise buildings in the US because they have adopted recommendations laid out in the International Building Code 2012. Germany also apparently bans the use of such materials. According to Phillip Hammond, this material is banned in the UK and across the EU on buildings greater than 18m in height. If this is correct then criminal corporate manslaughter charges look likely to be laid at the door of whoever authorised the renovation of the exterior of Grenfell. It also begs the question: how many other high rise buildings have been encased in these ‘illegal’ death trap panels, just to improve energy efficiency on the cheap and meet EU emissions reductions targets?

74 thoughts on “Grenfell and the Sustainability Agenda

  1. I don’t think I would want to be a resident in one of these thermally insulated high rises in this weather, even if the panels were fire resistant. They might reflect a bit more heat during the day, but imagine all that heat trapped inside during the night.

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  2. Here are a few more relevant links.

    Planning Statement, Oct 2012, for the addition of the cladding, with a section ‘Climate change and energy’ on page 10.

    Sustainability and Energy Statement, mentions climate change and carbon emissions several times.

    Did UK Government Climate Mania Contribute to the Grenfell Tower Disaster?

    Warnings over ‘deathtrap’ high-rise building cladding ‘ignored’ for decades: “There now is a growing conviction among construction and fire experts that the cladding system fixed to Grenfell Tower to improve the energy efficiency and appearance of the building as part of a £8.6 million refurbishment helped spread the fire.”

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  3. What utter rubbish. Residents complained of poor thermal insulation resulting in high heating bills, and damp. Improving these defects comes under the heading of environmental improvements but given the current mania of all governments with respect to reducing CO2 emissions, improving the thermal properties would be accompanied by statements regarding CO2 savings. To now argue that the aim was to comply with EU demands about CO2 emissions beggars belief. This does not imply that I think the minor savings made by the Council in installing less safe cladding has any merit whatsoever.

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  4. Utter rubbish eh, Alan?

    “Sustainability has been a key consideration throughout design progression and this is reflected throughout all buildings……
    Policy CE1 of the Core Strategy focuses on Climate Change, ensuring the following in relation to this
    development:

    Applications for refurbishment achieve the comparable level to Ecohomes……
    Sustainability has been at the heart of design progression since the inception of the project……
    Adapting to climate change is well documented in planning policy, and the role that planning can play in achieving more sustainable development is at the heart of the NPPF.”

    RBKC statement on the Core Strategy:

    “Policy CE 1

    Climate Change

    The Council recognises the Government’s targets to reduce national carbon dioxide emissions by 26% against 1990 levels by 2020 in order to meet a 60% reduction by 2050 and will require development to make a significant contribution towards this target.”

    So for you to say:

    “To now argue that the aim was to comply with EU demands about CO2 emissions beggars belief.”

    does indeed beggar belief.

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  5. The EU recommendations you quote are perfectly insane even on their own terms. “The existing building stock represents the single biggest potential sector for energy savings” and “Buildings are crucial to achieving the Union objective of reducing greenhouse emissions by 80-95% by 2050” if it means anything, means “let’s save a percentage point or two on heating costs (because we know how to do that) while we work out how to fly airplanes and run a modern economy on windpower.” Even supposing that the insulating of all high rise buildings reduced energy consumption, it’s no more the first step to an 80% reduction in emissions than my running to the corner shop is the first step in me winning the marathon.

    Except that there is no evidence that any changes in insulation would save money. Everyone knows that the heating is impossible to control in flats in high rise buildings. Being comfortable costs money and uses lots of energy, as the rich people living opposite with their air conditioning and heated swimming pools are well aware. Its not even about global warming. Even the most ardent believer in climate catastrophe must be able to see that there is no logical connection between the intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the installation of supposedly insulating cladding. It’s just silly.

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  6. You believe everything in a planning document? I don’t dispute that there was climate marlarkie in it (to make it PR acceptable and to cater to those who hold such matters sacrosanct). What I do dispute is that the cladding was added primarily to reduce CO2 emissions. Instead it was to improve the visual appeal of the building to neighbours and to the residents alike. The brutalist style is not to most people’s taste. But more importantly to improve thermal losses, making the apartments cheaper to heat. To claim otherwise is IMO to push the anti climate change bandwagon. There are better targets out there.

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  7. Great respect to Jaime for piecing together the story based on the data she had this afternoon but there’s now this:

    In a separate development, Panorama has discovered that firefighters put out the first fire at Grenfell Tower.

    They were called to a fridge fire, and within minutes told residents the fire was out in the flat.

    The crew was leaving the building when firefighters outside spotted flames rising up the side of the building.

    The Fire Brigades Union say firefighters were left facing an unprecedented fire, and officers broke their own safety protocol to rescue people.

    The flames outside could presumably have come from the window Jaime posits was left open by the owner of the fridge but it sounds unlikely if experienced firefighters declared that fire to have been put out. The mysteries deepen.

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  8. Geoff:

    Even the most ardent believer in climate catastrophe must be able to see that there is no logical connection between the intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the installation of supposedly insulating cladding. It’s just silly.

    “Climate is a looming catastrophe therefore we must do something, however stupid.”

    That’s roughly how I summarised it to myself years back. Two much more mundane things always seem present though: unjust profits for crony capitalists (like those carrying out the recladding contracts for billions right across the UK) and the poor paying the price, normally through higher energy bills but in this case their lives.

    I agree with Alan that mention of emission reduction was probably just boilerplate to those wanting to get on and make the money. But when does guilt by such common association become real?

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  9. “The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is committed to improving the energy efficiency of local housing, as reflected in a number of key documents:
    Through its Climate Change Strategy the Council aims to make a difference on three levels: In the operation of its own estate. Corporate CO2 targets aim at a reduction of 20 per cent by 2014, 30 per cent by 2016 and a final target of a 40 per cent reduction by 2020 from a baseline date of 2008. In delivering services. In stimulating behavioural change amongst businesses, residents and partner organisations in the community.
    Strategic objectives outlined in the Core Strategy include: Our strategic objective to have a diversity of housing is that, at a local level, it will cater for a variety of housing needs of borough residents, and is built for adaptability and to a high quality (CO6). Our strategic objective to respect environmental limits is to contribute to the mitigation of, and adaption to, climate change, significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, maintain low and further reduce car use, carefully manage flood risk and waste, protect and attract biodiversity, improve air quality, and reduce and control noise within the borough (CO7).
    The Royal Borough’s Community Strategy outlines a set of specific aims and objectives across eight themes, these aims include: Promote energy efficiency, recycling, waste minimisation and the reduction of pollution. Tackle the causes of climate change that arise from the activities of those living and working in the borough. Improve the quality of housing across all tenures. Improve the energy efficiency of dwellings and encourage sustainable development.
    The Housing Strategy states that the Council will work with KCTMO and Registered Social Landlords to: Promote and support greener housing across the Royal Borough. Seek to improve homes to a higher standard, recognising the importance of seeking reasonable alterations to the existing building stock to mitigate the causes of and adapt to the effects likely to occur due to climate change.
    ii) Measures that take advantage of financial assistance and other benefits offered from central government initiatives
    Green Deal and ECO
    The Council is currently working to identify its preferred approach to delivering the Green Deal and ECO. The ECO Carbon Saving Community Obligation presents significant opportunities, particularly in the north of the borough, where there are 17 designated areas eligible for financial support for energy efficiency improvements”.

    https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/PDF/Home%20energy%20conservation%20act%20report%202013.pdf

    How much more evidence do you need that the people in charge of housing policy at RBKC aren’t just paying lip-service to green ideology? It is at the heart of their thinking and planning and they are committed to meeting carbon reduction targets by improving energy efficiency of their housing stock.

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  10. Richard, thanks for that extra information. I guess we’ll know more and more as each day passes. If firefighters put out the initial blaze in the flat, then noticed flames leaping up the outside as they were preparing to leave, it seems highly likely that the fridge fire had already ignited the exterior cladding, but this was not noticed or not evident from inside. It suggests moreover that the exterior cladding must have been extremely flammable.

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  11. Yep, it would have to have been extremely flammable. Other possibilities are I suppose that an inexperienced team of firefighters did a very bad job initially (which would not deny the heroism of others later) or that the external cladding was set on fire by something else entirely. Whichever it is the exact role of the “sustainability agenda” in the decisions made on the cladding should remain under intense scrutiny. Thanks again for laying it all out.

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  12. I still find it difficult to conceive that the cladding, however flammable, would allow a fire to spread in the narrow space between the cladding and the building. Once established the burning cladding would use up all of the oxygen and potentially put out the fire at that location (but not on the outside). Yet the fire brigades were saying that they couldn’t extinguish the fire because it was burning within the confined spaces where water could not reach. My suspicion is that the fire spread predominantly on the outside and ignited the aluminium. At those temperatures, extinguishing the fire with water was probably impossible.

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  13. Pingback: Grenfell Tower Tragedy lesson: regulations save lives (the lesson Koch operatives don’t want US to learn)

  14. I’ll have to go lie down but I’m going to agree with AK. I don’t doubt that they used green justification for recycling the building rather than building a new one but the real reason was a shortage of property and the cheaper alternative of doing up rather than starting afresh. A new building would have been less efficient using the space with those luxuries like 2 stair wells, sprinklers and real insulation. Even the inhabitants would have balked at a smaller floor space.

    What has contributed mightily to this incident is the blizzard of regulations and must haves that come from the EU, the green brigade, the media and even the public. It’s easy to lose sight of what is important. How many investigations and reports have there been since these panels were identified as a problem? And how many of the recommendations have actually been done? Meanwhile, how many effing pointless issues been given an airing and some cash? Money for work like that done by Dr Lew would have paid for a lot of real safety on that tower block. A climate conference or two missed could put sprinklers in every tower and see the inhabitants put up at a hotel for the duration of the work. How long must solar panels operate to make up for the CO2 that burning tower put into the atmosphere? But don’t just blame the green blob. There are multiculturism blobs (like making sure immigrants know who Henry VIII married but not how to deal with a fire eg one woman said she’d dialled 911). There are gender blobs (all those unisex loos in universities but no loos at all on the high street). The recent child abuse scandals where the police didn’t want to be called racist and so sat idly by while clear crimes were committed.

    There are too many ‘most important’ considerations. Our politicians are too inexperienced/lazy/dumb to know when to act and when not to.

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  15. A good example of wasting priority

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-40345458

    This will have no effect other than the CO2 emissions of the artist from Burkina Faso and a lot of mutual masturbation by already convinced people who go to see it. (As conceptual art goes it’s relatively aesthetic and jolly). And the biggest irony? It’s a temporary exhibition.

    Who thinks this is of any benefit? Prioritised against a million other issues crying out for money, this is pure self indulgence pretending to be action.

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  16. Okay, clever clogs, say what you would do to improve conditions in a building that cannot be cooled in summer, is too expensive to heat in winter and that has an expensive, inflexible and inefficient heating system. The answer is one of 1. knock it down and replace it, or 2. insulate the walls, double/tripple glaze the windows and replace the heating system. Or can you come up with a better solution? That is what they did, albeit badly where it comes to the insulation. There’s nothing about answer 2 or EU regulations that says that insulation *should* be flammable. Obviously it should *not* be flammable, but ensuring that would be another regulation of the sort you presumably dislike.

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  17. “Okay, clever clogs, say what you would do to improve conditions in a building that cannot be cooled in summer, is too expensive to heat in winter and that has an expensive, inflexible and inefficient heating system.”

    I wouldn’t clad it in external insulation to cool it in summer that’s for sure! Fitting better windows with reflective coatings and constant ventilation will help (which they did). But how much this and the external panels reflecting more solar energy during the day compensated for the significant reduction in heat loss during warm summer nights is anybody’s guess. I guess not being able to fling the windows wide open at night combined with the significant reduction in heat loss has probably not improved the problem of overheating, or made it worse even.

    Why was it too expensive to heat in winter? Because the heating system was rubbish and energy costs are high . . . . . because of this country’s obsession with inefficient, heavily subsidised ‘clean green energy’ generation! Why IS it too expensive to heat in winter? Are not winters becoming progressively warmer in this country because of climate change? Not as warm as Africa and the Middle East, I’ll grant you, which is the type of climate most of the residents would be used to. These flats were built in the 1960s and 1970s. The poor residents then had to endure some truly cold winters, but there again, energy was affordable. The planning document is very fond of mentioning adaptation to climate change. Thermally insulating the outside of the building when summers are getting hotter and winters are getting warmer doesn’t actually sound that sensible does it? That’s because thermally insulating the outside of the building was done with saving energy primarily in mind – sustainability, reduced CO2 emissions (as mandated by law – EU and UK).

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  18. So you think that low regulations, thin walls and cheap energy are the way to go? That’s what gets you towers like Grenfell, pre-refurbishment.

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  19. If I may interject, cheap energy has to be the way to go, given the lead the US has already taken in that regard. That debate cuts across all sectors and is a no-brainer once the cost-benefits for the next 50 years or so of greening/warming from CO2 are understood – and the fact China has no serious intention of reducing its emissions for a long while. But that very big argument is surely outside the scope of this thread.

    What really interests me here is your phrase “low regulation”. The typical “Day of Rage” rioter and his ideological brain-mates see regulation as a one-dimensional thing. Less is bad, more is good, without any exceptions. But I don’t think it’s one-dimensional at all. The wrong kind of rules can make those responsible for safety in places like Grenfell lose sight of their very great responsibilities for the “tired, poor, huddled masses” in their care. (And what a great picture that group of erstwhile residents seems to be for the positives of our society’s generosity, despite the challenges.)

    Jennie Bristow did a very helpful piece on this in Spiked yesterday.

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  20. Ironically, green regulations may also have contributed to the Grenfell tragedy in another, rather unexpected way. The man whose fridge exploded may have had his kitchen fitted with a nice, new, ‘eco-friendly’ fridge/freezer which not only is more energy efficient than its erstwhile counterparts, but uses new ‘ozone safe’ coolant. What is this ‘ozone safe’ refridgerant? Why, none other than highly flammable and explosive isobutane/propane of course! Exploding fridges are rather more common than some people think. It is quite instructive that many people on Twitter had never heard of an exploding fridge when the news of Grenfell first broke, and they were thus doubtful of the explanation – myself included. This may be on account of the fact that there is not a lot of readily available information on the internet re. the link between exploding fridges and new ‘green’ refridgerants. I can’t think think why this might be so . . . . . But, like ‘green’ external cladding, ‘green’ fridges also have the potential to kill. It’s like:

    “Honey, the Montreal Protocol blew my fridge up”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1210334/Alert-new-wave-exploding-fridges-caused-environmentally-friendly-coolant.html

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  21. Richard, which rules exactly made those responsible for safety in Grenfell “lose sight of their very great responsibilities…”.

    I doubt that anyone thinks more rules = good, fewer rules=bad. I was struck a while back by a podcast guest (Chopper’s Brexit podcast) who objected to EU regulations but couldn’t name one he wanted to remove. My guess is that those opposing rules are often talking their own book, like those rolling back Dodd-Frank now.

    Cheap energy leads to inefficient use. Do you see that as somehow a good thing in itself?

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  22. Inefficient energy use is not a good thing in itself. But cheaper energy allows more people to make the choice on how they use energy, and what for. For example, if energy is cheaper, poor people find it easier to heat their homes, and fewer die of cold in the winter.

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  23. Ah, spot how LM goes seamlessly from ‘energy efficiency’ to ‘inefficient energy use’ when the subject of ‘cheap energy’ is brought up. It’s not rocket science that you can combine energy efficiency with cheap, abundant energy and end up with a happy, free populace who don’t have to think twice about spending a couple more minutes in the shower, using air-conditioning when it gets unbearably hot or turning up the thermostat on cold winter days when they’re not feeling too well. Mandating against inefficient energy use raises the ugly spectre of compulsory ‘green’ appliances – much beloved of the EU (like vacuums which don’t suck, kettles which take ages to boil, and fridges which explode) and ‘green’ condensing boilers which break down each winter.

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  24. “’it’s not rocket science…” No, but tell us where it happens. The USA has cheap energy but low efficiency. Many other countries that have cheap energy combined with waste. Where is the counter example?

    This reaction by sceptics to a tragedy makes you all seem even more nutty than normal.

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  25. “This reaction by sceptics to a tragedy makes you all seem even more nutty than normal.”

    Cheap shot as usual, and entirely expected. What ‘reaction’ are you referring to? The reaction which identifies the green imperatives behind the provision of insulation at Grenfell Tower?

    This article identifies them and you have done nothing whatsoever to provide evidence in any way which disputes this. You just call me, and others here, nutty and imply that this is an inappropriate response to a tragedy.

    So hit me with the ‘facts’ which prove we’re nutty or go away with your tail between your legs and don’t darken this thread again.

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  26. Give me the counter example. Where does cheap energy and high efficiency exist without regulations forcing efficiency standards?

    The ‘reaction’ I referred to is trying to blame the fire on green regulations and not on a lack of regulation or enforcement. It is not just cliscep, but ‘sceptics’ more widely. It sucks.

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  27. I agree with Alan Kendall’s comment 19 Jun 17 at 5:04 pm that the major reason for cladding was not for reasons of climate change. The high-rise council blocks have long been associated with damp and high heating bills. But the superficial issues of climate and visual appearances are those that play a more important role in today’s society than the substantial issues of improving living standards for the poorest in society.
    The high-rise blocks, for all their defects, were essentially formed as concrete compartments with openings for doors and windows. As such, even with windows open, the passage from one floor to another would be fairly slow. It would need the fire to come through a window from the floor below, take hold, then ascend to the floor above. I would suggest (from the current available evidence) it is the combination of the combustible panels and the chimney effect greatly accelerated the movement upwards of the fire. This leads to an issue of regulations. If you try to adjust a flawed design with retrofit solutions, the onus is on the regulators to make sure that all the different elements (retrofit cost, CO2 savings, cost savings, comfort, aesthetics, fire safety) are optimized. It makes the solution horrendously complicated, and might be different for seemingly similar applications. It is the regulators that owe a duty of care when passing the regulations that they cover as many unintended consequences as possible. But regulations ain’t like that, and the regulators will shift the blame onto anyone in the firing line, such as those who ensured the regulations were complied with, the manufacturers of the materials, the building contractors or those who specified the work and employed the contractors.

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  28. So that’s 4 people who say that the renovation of the exterior of Grenfell Tower was prompted by a straightforward decision to improve living conditions for the people inside and that mitigation of climate change, i.e. reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, played only a minor supporting role. But no evidence is presented in order to support this view other than the known fact that the building suffered from high heating bills in winter, overheating in summer and damp problems. I have demonstrated that sustainability ideology was at the very heart of RBKC’s housing renovation policy. So please, show me the evidence which suggests the exterior was cladded primarily to make life more comfortable for the residents and that sustainability considerations were nothing but a subsidiary tick box exercise.

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  29. Jaime, fair point, but our interpretation is just as reasonable. Your view would be all the stronger if you could prove that the Borough has pursued a policy of instituting CO2 reductions. I don’t see any measures, for example, to restrict Chelsea chariots.

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  30. Higher up I linked to the planning statement and its associated “Sustainability and Energy Statement”. Sadly the building didn’t turn out to be very sustainable.

    Here are some excerpts from the planning application:

    Adapting to climate change is well
    documented in planning policy, and the role
    that planning can play in achieving more
    sustainable development is at the heart of the
    NPPF, as set out in section 10 thereof.

    The London Plan sets out overall targets for
    CO2 emissions and how the planning system
    can promote their achievement

    Policy CE1 of the Core Strategy focuses on
    Climate Change,  ensuring the following in
    relation to this development:
    • Applications for refurbishment achieve the
    comparable level to Ecohomes Very Good
    under the new BREEAM Domestic
    Refurbishment guidance.  

    and there are more mentions of climate change. The sustainability statement includes:

    When the age/construction of the building façade and likely
    efficiency of the heating plant is taken into consideration, it is
    clear that there are significant carbon reductions to be made by
    refurbishing the façade and heating in a cohesive manner.

    The environmental impact of existing urban areas should be
    reduced through policies and programmes that bring existing
    buildings up to the Mayor’s standards on sustainable design and
    construction. In particular, programmes should reduce carbon
    dioxide emissions…

    Within LDFs boroughs should develop policies and proposals
    regarding the sustainable retrofitting of existing buildings. In
    particular they should identify opportunities for reducing carbon
    dioxide emissions from the existing building stock…

    Policy CE1: Climate Change
    The Council recognises the Government’s targets to reduce
    national carbon dioxide emissions by 26% against 1990 levels by
    2020 in order to meet a 60% reduction by 2050 and will require
    development to make a significant contribution towards this target.

    To deliver this the Council will:

    d. Require that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases
    are reduced to meet the Code for Sustainable Homes, …

    So clearly climate change and CO2 reduction was a significant factor in the refurbishment plans. Jaime has provided quotes from other relevant documents. Her critics have provided their opinions.

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  31. The facts that improving the provision of centralized heating to flats and the application of new cladding to improve the buildings appearance and reduce energy losses might reduce CO2 emissions is no proof that reducing CO2 emissions was the prime cause for the refurbishments. Such reductions would be a by product of the refurbishments, and could be used as further justification for the expenditures. No proof has yet been tendered that the Borough engaged in policies primarily designed to reduce CO2 emissions. Has the Borough instituted any changes where the main “benefit” was CO2 reduction? Words are one thing, deeds another.
    But perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps the Council was so intent on sucking up to green interests and the central Government’s mania about CO2 that it failed to adequately provide for its citizens’ needs, as has been displayed so well over the past week.

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  32. “No proof has yet been tendered that the Borough engaged in policies primarily designed to reduce CO2 emissions.”

    You are joking aren’t you Alan?

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  33. The key word of Alan’s is “primarily”. The overall issue here though is whether the “sustainability agenda” contributed to the disastrous fire. I think it did. That’s just my opinion Paul, based on the documents presented. The moral outrage of our one never-actually-debunking debunker is both phony and ugly. What I said earlier had to with the attitude of contractors, which was I suggested hypocritical. Indeed, it’s a truism by now that society as a whole is highly hypocritical about emission reduction. But the sustainability agenda made the tragedy more likely to happen.

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  34. It’s this thorny subject of ‘impetus’ and ’cause’. It is true that the residents complained about damp, overheating in summer and being cold in winter, combined with high heating bills. It is true that the KTCMO commissioned the refurbishment on the basis of addressing these concerns (some of which were addressed by works other than the cladding and therefore not relevant to this post), but the manner of the refurbishment was guided from the word go by national and local framework policies on sustainability, climate change and energy efficiency, overseen of course by EU directives. This was patently NOT green window-dressing by the council; the philosophy of CO2 reduction/energy efficiency is deeply embedded in the Borough’s approach to planning, construction and refurbishment. I’ve worked in property lettings; private landlords don’t generally shell out heaps of cash for improvements unless there is a very good reason for doing so, usually because the law demands action. I don’t imagine that councils are that different – acceding to the demands of tenants presented the perfect excuse to indulge the green fantasies of council executives plus meet mandatory emissions reductions targets.

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  35. I am unrepentant. The claim I make is that those who would blame green policies of the Kensington and Chelsea Council must prove their case. Reference to written material is not proof, deeds would be. The key words are “Words are one thing, deeds another.”
    Surely it is indisputable that adding cladding was done to improve the appearance of the building and as an attempt to remedy damp and improve insulation? Can you really say that these goals were subordinate to decreasing CO2 emissions.
    I briefly looked over a document listing measures the Council are, or will be , taking to reduce CO2 emissions. Apart from closing offices (presumably selling them off so that continued CO2 emissions will not be attributed to the council) the rest are small beer, almost derisive. The council is making changes that will make it more expensive to drive diesel vehicles – hardly a policy to rexuce CO2 emissions.
    I’m willing to change my opinion if real evidence can be provided. Empty aspirations in Council documents do not hack it. So Jaime, no I’m not joking.

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  36. To illustrate just how difficult it can be to disentangle greenery from genuine beneficial changes, in the carbon reduction document put out by Kensington and Chelsea, there was an item on replacing street lighting together with an estimated CO2 emissions reduction that would result. Now this could be viewed as climate change madness if the change resulted in 1) a reduction in the brightness of the street illumination, 2) the replacement cost never being repaid by any energy savings, or if 3) the present lighting were perfectly adequate and is expected to last for an extended period. In this case, replacement of the street lighting is being done to satisfy green policies, organisations and pressure groups. But, what if the present day lighting were inadequate or needed to be replaced because of its age? The Council would justify replacement on those grounds and add further justification that the more efficient replacements also comply with attempts to reduce CO2 emissions as a consequence of using more energy efficient lighting systems. To then claim that the sole reason for replacement is tomeet CO2 reduction goals would be incorrect and potentially libellous.

    Can you, hand on heart, tell me that the cladding was added primarily to reduce CO2 emissions, rather than to make genuine improvements, which incidentally reduced CO2 emissions, consistent with the Council’s overarching policy goals?

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  37. Alan, there’s a big difference between “sole reason” and even “primarily”. Nobody’s saying sole reason. I’d say it was a contributing factor, not least because of what Manic says

    It makes the solution horrendously complicated…

    Let’s accept what Geoff says, that it can’t possibly make a difference, especially with Paris letting China, India and co do what they like (quite rightly, I think, for humanitarian reasons) and eliminate one cause of complexity completely. Fire safety is too important.

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  38. Alan, I’m quite happy to up the ante here and expand on my argument that green policies lie at the very heart of the decision to over-insulate Grenfell, above and beyond what was required by regulations, but until such time as you expand upon your opinion that the sole or primary reason for insulating the building was to make living conditions more bearable for tenants, and actually come up with some documentary evidence to support that opinion, I think we’ll leave it there.

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  39. It’s a bit late but just after 10pm in the car I chanced on a fire safety expert being interviewed on Radio 5 Live. His organisation had argued for a while about the dangers of plastic-filled cladding but, he said, had been studiously ignored – in fact, they could hardly get time with those responsible for regulations. Although he said it gently, the government’s “sustainability agenda” seemed to be squarely to blame for that. I just became more convinced.

    I’ll try and dig out the iPlayer version tomorrow.

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  40. Also last night I watched on BBC 1 10 o’clock news a demonstration of the flammability of different cladding materials. What I noted was that even the most flammable didn’t produce flames more than about 2m high. Video of the burning building showed flames 2 or 3 stories high.
    Slightly later on Radio 4 was an item where two fire prevention experts visited a tower block in Newham built at the same time as Grenfell, also 23 stories high, and refurbished by the same company that did the work at Grenfell. Even from the outside of the building they identified serious defects, but when they inspected the interior of a flat they were appalled. The integrity of the flat was broken at several points so that they concluded all flats were linked. Fire could easily spread to plywood and the gas supply came through aluminium piping. They concluded the flat was a deathtrap and vehemently urged the residents to leave immediately. The aluminium pipes would lose their integrity at 600 degrees, a temperature easily reached in a fire. What I began to wonder is whether the very large flames in the Grenfell fire were not from the cladding at all but from plywood or even from escaping gas.

    It is beginning to be apparent that 1) blocks of flats have many more defects than just flammable cladding, many of which were introduced during refurbishment, and 2) building inspections have become appallingly lax. At one point in the radio programme a council representative briefly mentioned that legislation was changed in 2005 and became much less onerous (and lax?) IMO what I listened to last night raised more important questions than whether or not CO2 reduction aims put in peril residents of tower blocks.

    I have been viewing plans to reduce CO2 emissions for various County Councils. All I viewed had them, but for some the efforts being made were almost just paying lip service and produced just to be able to tick the necessary boxes in reports to central government.

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  41. Forgot to mention that when viewing documents concerning reduction of CO2 by councils, I noticed that much of the focus was upon changing Schools. If Jaime and Richard are correct, is this another locus of potential disaster?

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  42. Richard, that ties in with my view that there are too many priorities. Climate change gets more reaction, partly because it’s new and partly because it’s an ego booster issue. Fire safety is old hat. It’s one of those things that is never praised for being good, only decried if it’s bad. Climate change is the opposite. Anything done in the name of cutting CO2, earns the persons involved kudos. Even if those actions are pointless or ultimately destructive. There are loads of issues that are similar and are heavily influenced by current trends. London councils in particular will be rife with them. People even get promoted for being on trend rather than being a boring old basics person. I bet the people involved in the contract spent more time choosing the look of the flats than querying the safety aspects. And yet if you asked the people involved to put the priorities in order, fire safety would be higher than almost anything.

    As a sceptic I’d love to blame AGW hysteria for this fire but it’s a symptom of a greater problem. If you were to ask people to rate electricity priorities in order, reliability of supply would be very high (after fire and personal safety). It would be much higher than CO2 emissions. However just like fire safety, reliability is falling down the real world list of priorities because it’s not cool. How many marches have people been on for cheap, reliable power?

    The reaction to events like Grenfell is to demand that the governement spend more money. That magical money tree Jeremy Corbyn was counting on. There is only so much tax you can take before you damage your country’s economy and tax declines so we have to have priorities and they have to reflect our real needs and not the need du jour.

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  43. Jaime
    Your point Alan?

    I am not making a point. I offered my opinion on whether greenbilge was the prime mover in the refurbishment and concluded that it probably wasn’t. You and some others believe the tragedy can be attributed to the aforementioned greenbilge. I acknowledge that my opinion could be wrong. In trawling the internet in search of evidence one way or the other I came across Camden’s greenbilge and thought you might be interested. It probably supports your view but I’ll not hide evidence.

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  44. Alan,

    “You and some others believe the tragedy can be attributed to the aforementioned greenbilge.”

    I set out fairly clearly what I think this tragedy can be directly attributed to. Indirectly, I believe the pursuance of green targets was a very significant factor.

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  45. Jaime. You wrote “So, Grenfell Tower, and others, have been ‘renovated’ with flammable insulating panels not because posh people demanded they were given a make-over, but because bureaucrats in Brussels demanded that buildings in public ownership be made more energy efficient in order to reduce CO2 emissions and save the planet from man-made climate catastrophe. So if you’re searching for a political mark on which to pin some blame for this awful tragedy, look no further than EU imposed ‘green’ emissions reductions targets.”

    So yes I did get it right, you are blaming greenbilge for the underlying cause.
    [In contrast I believe greenbilge was used as additional justification for carrying out “improvements”]

    I now believe the main cause of the tragedy is the decline in standards and the rigour of fire prevention measures and inspection. That is where our concern and blame should be directed.

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  46. I finally got the chance to talk about the Grenfell fire to my neighbour. He was a senior fire chief who, upon retirement set up a company that advises businesses upon fire safety. He emphasized what I was beginning to suspect – that the cladding panels are only a small part of the problem. He was appalled that the gas supply pipe was relocated to the single stairwell and wasn’t even protected. However, the most significant point he made was something I have not heard discussed. The panel material when sufficiently heated gives off an extremely poisonous gas -isocyanate, which only takes a few breaths to be lethal. He said that survivors rescued by firemen had to be given the antidote upon reaching safety. Yet another reason not to follow the stay in your flat policy.

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  47. I saw cyanide poisoning mentioned on the front of one of the newspapers in the supermarket Alan but didn’t know the how. Don’t have the time. Thanks for delving into this. I think we’d all accept that this disaster has uncovered shoddiness at many levels.

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  48. Alan, yes, that’s what I said, after having identified the possible direct causes of the fire. Maybe i could have chosen my words slightly more carefully, but I fully stand by what i said – the building was insulated primarily to meet sustainability targets.

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  49. Richard. According to my neighbour, the majority of Grenfell deaths will have been caused by poisoning. Methyl isocyanate was released at Bhopal and caused the death of many thousands.

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  50. The New York Times in a rather thorough report on Saturday:

    The first well-known use of aluminum cladding on a high-rise was on the Alcoa Building, in Pittsburgh, erected as the manufacturer’s headquarters. Makers of cladding promoted it as both aesthetically striking and energy-efficient, because the aluminum surface reflects back heat and light. Demand for cladding surged with rising fuel costs and concerns about global warming, and over time, producers began selling it in a thin “sandwich” design: Two sheets of aluminum around a core made of flammable plastics like polyethylene.

    The cladding is typically paired with a much thicker layer of foam insulation against the building’s exterior wall, as was the case at Grenfell Tower. Then the cladding may be affixed to the wall with metal studs, leaving a narrow gap between the cladding and the insulation.

    But by 1998, regulators in the United States — where deaths from fires are historically more common than in Britain or Western Europe — began requiring real-world simulations to test any materials to be used in buildings taller than a firefighter’s two-story ladder. “The U.S. codes say you have to test your assembly exactly the way you install it in a building,” said Robert Solomon, an engineer at the National Fire Protection Association, which is funded in part by insurance companies and drafts model codes followed in the United States and around the world.

    No aluminum cladding made with pure polyethylene — the type used at Grenfell Tower — has ever passed the test, experts in the United States say.

    Emphasis added. It got a mention. How big a cause was it? Too much of one, given Geoff’s point earlier.

    The Observer yesterday:

    Test results on building materials in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster have revealed that 60 high-rise blocks in 25 areas of England are unsafe, the government confirms.

    Earlier over the weekend, cladding that had been used on 34 tower blocks in 17 council areas in England was reported to have failed government fire safety tests.

    The announcement came after Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, revealed that all of the buildings that had so far submitted cladding samples have failed combustibility tests.

    60 out of 60. I think ‘systemic problem’ may be calling here. But the other phrase that comes to mind in considering the deleterious influence of CO2 emission reduction in such complex areas is ‘magical thinking’. Remember, this is the beautiful policy that has no negative side-effects, no unintended consequences, no need to consider tradeoffs:

    How about putting that CarbonBrief effort from 2011 – seeking to patronise the great Freeman Dyson – alongside a photo of Grenfell fully abaze under the title “Magical Thinking Considered Harmful”. I may do on Cliscep shortly.

    Liked by 1 person

  51. I was under the impression that the insulation was provided via the core material inside the panel ‘sandwich’. It seems that a much thicker layer of insulation was however situated behind the panels, fixed to the wall of the building, according to Richard’s NYT quote above. The air gap which probably accelerated the rise of the fire was between the panels and the foam insulation. The core material of the panels was flammable, as we now know. Surely to God, the foam insulation behind the panels was not also flammable?

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  52. I was also struck by this extra layer to the insulation and thus to the story – and by the fact I first read about it in the NYT, not a British title. Though, to be fair, I’ve been far from exhaustive in my reading on the subject. I’ve also been thinking this morning about McDonnell’s disgraceful “murdered by political decisions”. Isn’t that kind of language-bending par for the course in a political culture which is perfectly happy to liken those of us who question the rationality of a supreme political imperative to reduce emissions with those who deny that the Nazi herded millions into gas chambers to be poisoned by cyanide-based Zyklon B or carbon monoxide. When some of us at least are motivated more than most things by the poisonous (though slower-acting) smoke that is estimated to kill four million of the world’s poorest each year who have no access to reliable electricity. There’s some biting satire in there somewhere, if you can see through the deadly smoke and mirrors of the climate Care Bears, as Steve McIntyre has begun to call them derisively on Twitter.

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  53. My friendly ex-fireman neighbour raises another feature of the fire. It spread inward, eventually filling the sole stairwell with smoke and fumes. He points out that shopping malls would also be prone to the same problems but that it is countered by having the interior at a slight overpressure. Do the more expensive blocks of flats come with this feature? He didn’t know but said that to his knowledge no buildings, other than malls, are so equipped in Norfolk.

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  54. The over pressure is probably a feature of air con? It sucks air from out side, cools it and bows it inwards.

    As I watched some panels removed yesterday I saw what looked like blue plastic ground sheets underneath the exterior panels, held down with wooden battens. I was wondering how many flammable materials they could get in one area.

    Cladding isn’t a new catastrophe, it’s an old one since asbestos was our first foray into unsafe insulation improvements.

    We are reaching a point where any solution to any problem creates new problems. We’ll reach checkmate where there are no solutions and the most cost effective and safest thing to do is – nothing. I think that is partly what’s happened here. A lot of people knew about this issue (albeit maybe not the size of it), must have passed the issue upwards to people who didn’t understand the problem and put it on the too difficult pile before forgetting about it.

    I was once asked what my greatest skill in doing my job was – I replied ‘knowing which balls I can safely drop’. It was the answer of someone with too many demands and not enough resources. Those higher up refused to agree any ball dropping at all and just hurled new ones in from time to time. Ultimately there wasn’t more cash to throw at problems. It needed priorities and an acceptance that the least important issues might/would get dropped. The UK isn’t far from this point and we need a proper debate about where our priorities lie. Throwing it at millennials who want to do a free degree in finger painting isn’t one of them, no matter what uncle Jeremy says.

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  55. Alan

    you quote above – 23 Jun 17 at 7:17 am
    “Fire could easily spread to plywood and the gas supply came through aluminium piping”
    this is unbelievable, but seems to chime with reports of gas pipes as a reason to evacuate blocks.

    not seen this highlighted on the 24hr news so far, has anybody else ?

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  56. ” the Nazi herded millions into gas chambers to be poisoned by cyanide-based Zyklon B”

    Still freely available from Eastern Europe for use as a fumigating agent as Uragan D2, incidentally.
    And guess what gas is one of the combustion products given off by burning polyurethane foam…

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  57. Spiked Online has picked up on this now:

    “The fad for recladding tower blocks in London and the rest of the country looks increasingly like a hysterical response to international obligations for action over climate change. Social-housing tenants were the people who could most easily be made to carry the responsibility for energy efficiency because they had little control over their estates.

    The government push for action on insulation encouraged shoddy workmanship and cowboy operators, who took advantage of the moral fervour of the climate-change campaign to make money.”

    http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/grenfell-clad-in-climate-change-politics/20003#.WVFU1AKSMjx.twitter

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  58. Jaime. Very interesting photographs in the Tallbloke’s post. Note in particular the height of the external flame (more than 10 stories high). Is this really a cladding fire (or a gas flame)? Note also the light from fires within flats that have still intact and unburning exterior cladding.
    My conclusions, now reinforced by seeing these photographs, are that the fire was not caused by the cladding, although eventually this did burn. The whole cladding issue is a smokescreen (no pun intended) that is an attempt (by whom?) to focus attention away from more serious fire safety defects in the buildings – fire doors, aluminium gas piping, unclad gas supply piping in the central stairwells and so on. Each day seemingly more and more hazardous practices are revealed yet the government and the MSM focus relentlessly upon the cladding, and blogsites like this one attempt to blame sustainability issues for the cladding, missing the more important issues. Firefighting organizations scream into the night, as they have been for years. My neighbour is incandescent (again no pun intended).

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  59. Not disagreeing that other defects, particularly with regard to the fire safety of gas piping, may have contributed to the fire at Grenfell Alan. Presumably, a full and thorough investigation by the fire service will reveal the extent of that contribution. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess just by looking at the way the fire spread, but please note, there is more than an hour between the first and the last photos shown at TB. I would have thought that gas igniting would be a lot more rapid and would have manifested via the spread of the fire inside the building, which, as you rightly point out, did occur also, seemingly independent of the external blaze.

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  60. Len, why is cheap energy such a bad thing? Do you wear wool underpants? If you can afford it why not use energy to enhance your life? Do you wear horsehair briefs to remind yourself of your sinfulness?

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  61. Whilst I stand by my comment of 21 Jun 17 at 11:24 pm insofar as I do not believe Jaime provided convincing evidence that the EU sustainability agenda was a major reason for the extent of the fire. Indeed she quotes the EU Energy Efficiency Directive 2012. For me own it is only convincing evidence if either (a) developments after the directive were significantly different than before OR (b) this was part of a trend of directives and regulations push through the climate agenda.
    It is on the latter, that Christopher Booker’s article of last Sunday might shed some light.
    The Grenfell Tower Fire Would Not Have Happened Without EU And Climate Regulations

    Booker emphasizes

    The cause of the conflagration was less to do with the “rainscreen” cladding: it was the combination of 6in of combustible Celotex insulation foam behind it with a void creating a “chimney” effect, sending the flames roaring up the building.

    Following a fire in an 11-storey block in Knowsley in 1989, the Building Research Establishment proposed a new “whole system test” covering all the materials used on the outside of buildings to see how they interacted when installed together. This was later adopted as the British standard BS8414. The EU, however, made mandatory in 2002 a “single burn” test applied only to each material separately, leaving BS8414 as only a voluntary option. The EU’s emphasis on thermal efficiency – as evidenced by EU Energy Efficiency Directive 2012 – meant that other matters were overlooked. For Grenfell the insulation was 6in of Celotex, a product that Booker claims would not have passed a complete system test.

    Another aspect, separate from Booker’s, to consider is the approval of refurbishment proposals. There must be a number of boxes ticked to get approval. Architects will work to a template of established elements in getting approval, knowing this is what the local authority will be looking for. That is why the design of the insulation, cladding and gap between them has much in common with dozens of other refurbishments around the country. If the climate change / sustainability / green boxes are not ticked, an investment will not get approved even if it is much cheaper and safer as a result.

    Liked by 1 person

  62. Manic:

    The EU’s emphasis on thermal efficiency – as evidenced by EU Energy Efficiency Directive 2012 – meant that other matters were overlooked. For Grenfell the insulation was 6in of Celotex, a product that Booker claims would not have passed a complete system test.

    Yep. Good old Booker. (And Jaime.)

    If the climate change / sustainability / green boxes are not ticked, an investment will not get approved even if it is much cheaper and safer as a result.

    And in the end the box-ticking lifestyle works the other way too, leading to needless deaths.

    Thank you for such a clear summary.

    Liked by 1 person

  63. Thanks for the additional comments guys. This issue will run and run. I keep meaning to do a follow up to this, Grenfell II, having identified what was probably the beginning of this insulating high rises nonsense in 2000, under the Blair government. It was called the Decent Homes Initiative. The Sustainability Agenda grew very rapidly from that. I’ll get around to it soon . . . .

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