Faulty and ambiguous” Government guidance allowed the Grenfell Tower tragedy to occur, the Housing Secretary has acknowledged as he placed a new deadline on unsafe blocks.
The fire at the residential tower block in North Kensington, west London, in June 2017 killed 72 people and triggered a public inquiry, chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, which is yet to deliver its final report.
Evidence to the inquiry showed official guidance was widely seen to allow highly flammable cladding on tall building, prompting The Sunday Times to ask Michael Gove if he accepted the rules were wrong.
“Yes,” he replied.
“There was a system of regulation that was faulty. The Government did not think hard enough, or police effectively enough, the whole system of building safety. Undoubtedly.”
“I believe that (the guidance) was so faulty and ambiguous that it allowed unscrupulous people to exploit a broken system in a way that led to tragedy,” Mr Gove added.
It comes after the inquiry’s final hearing in November heard that firms appeared to have used the inquiry to “position themselves for any legal proceedings” that may follow it, instead of showing remorse.
In closing submissions, lead counsel Richard Millett KC accused companies of a “merry go round of buck-passing” in order to protect their own interests.
On Monday, the Housing Secretary will announce a six-week deadline for developers to sign a Government contract to fix their unsafe towers – or be banned from the market.
“Those who haven’t (signed) will face consequences. They will not be able to build new homes.” Mr Gove told the Times.
The minister will use the so-called “responsible actor scheme”, to be established in the spring, to block such companies from getting planning or building control approval, the newspaper said.
The inquiry heard many of those involved have failed to accept blame for their role in the events prior to the disaster, showing what Mr Millett called a “lack of respect” for the victims and their families.
The inquiry also heard from Jason Beer KC, for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who said the department “apologises unreservedly” for its failure to recognise weaknesses in the regulatory system.
“The department recognises that it failed to appreciate it held an important stewardship role over the regime and that as a result it failed to grasp the opportunities to assess whether the system was working as intended.
“For the department’s failure to realise that the regulatory system was broken and that it might lead to a catastrophe such as this, the department is truly sorry and apologises unreservedly,” he said.
Concluding the hearing, inquiry chairman Sir Martin said the panel had already started working on its final report and promised to produce it “as soon as we can”.