Letter to the Telegraph: “The fire would not have occurred under the London Building Acts and bylaws.”

June 16, 2017 at 8:38 pm (engineering, environment, history, law, London, posted by JD)

  Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

The Daily Telegraph Letters to the Editor, 16 June 2017

SIR – The construction of buildings in London was controlled between 1667 and 1985 by the London Building Acts and associated construction bylaws.

These were administered by district surveyors, appointed by the superintending architect to the Greater London Council but independent as statutory officers who not only helped write the acts but also had the final say over any forms of construction. Many sections of the bylaws included the phrase “to the satisfaction of the district surveyor”.

The 28 district surveyors (all highly experienced construction professionals, usually both chartered engineers and chartered surveyors), working with the GLC’s buildings regulation department, ensured that all buildings built in the old London County Council area were safely built.

The old maxim in the service was: first, make sure it does not fall down; secondly, make sure it does not burn down; and thirdly, use your common sense for all other matters.

This excellent service was abolished in 1985 and replaced with the inferior National Building Regulations system. The London district surveyors were not responsible to any council and so could always do what they saw fit, free from political or financial pressure.

The fire at Grenfell Tower would not have happened  under the London Building Acts and bylaws. Proper fire breaks in the cladding would have been insisted on and, more importantly, enforced. Controlling fire-spread was the foundation of the  of the 1667 Act for the Rebuilding of London and its basics were still in place when I stood down as district surveyor for Chelsea in 1983.

No combustible materials would have been allowed on the outside of a building, no cavities in cladding allowed to create vertical fire or air pathways. Vertical and horizontal fire breaks were the foundation of the protection principles.

A building would have been regularly inspected by the respected London Building Regulations Department of the GLC and if found wanting, the owners, whoever they were, would have been prosecuted.

My former district surveyor colleagues will not be surprised that this disaster happened. Whenever politicians and accountants are in ultimate control of complex building matters, in place of experienced construction professionals who do not have to answer to them, we will see more disasters like this one.

Terence Jenkins
Tring, Hertfordshire


  1. petrel41 said,

  2. Ben said,

    You are very delicate, JD, in leaving out so many uncrossed t’s and undotted i’s.

    The Leader of the Greater London Council from 1981 until the council was abolished in 1986 was Ken Livingstone. The inferior National Building Regulations system was put in place in 1985. Will the Corbyn-led campaign of blame-placing and anti-Tory vituperation for the Grenfell Towers disaster now target a truly deserving culprit?

    • Jim Denham said,

      Ben: if you read this blog on a regular basis you’ll know we are not fans of Ken Livingstone’s. But surely the decision to replace district surveyors with the National Buildings Regulations system, was down to the national (Tory) government? If not, we’ll be only too willing to hold Livingstone to account – as we have over many other issues, not least his anti-Semitism.

  3. petrel41 said,

  4. Rilke said,

    Ben is a little confused to say the least. This confusion is either stupidity or cynicism. He says that Corbyn and Labour should not indulge in the politics of ‘blame’ in light of this human-made catastrophe as this is reprehensible. Yet, he then says that Ken Livingstone and the GLC ought to be ‘blamed’ as they are the the true culprits. It does not take much philsophical training to see the illogicality and shallowness of his stated position. He thinks it is morally wrong to play politics with human agony unless it is the kind of politics he supports. There is quite a lot of this going on the right-wing apologist circuit at the moment. All a bit dreary and predictable as well as ethically disgusting.

    • Ben said,

      Blame should be apportioned where blame is due. The leader of the GLC who oversaw the replacement of the building regulatory system with an inferior version, and the leader of the Labour Party who voted against legislation for retrofitting public housing with sprinkler systems are deserving of critical scrutiny.

      Yesterday, at a march sponsored by the Islamic Human Rights Commission in support of Hizbullah and Hamas, two antisemitic organizations that Jeremy Corbyn considers to be friends, there were speeches blaming Zionist Tories for the Grenfell Towers disaster. Not only were the Zionists blamed by the speaker but also the Rabbis and congregations of the synagogues they attend. Not a word of condemnation or disapproval for these incendiary and preposterous accusations has emanated from the leader of the Labour Party.

      Meanwhile money that the SWP is collecting for the victims has disappeared.

  5. Rilke said,

    Yes of course Ben, the groups and people you mention are awful, ethically deplorable and politically opportunistic. Unlike you and your cronies, who would never dream of using human misery as a political tool; just as you are in fact, doing right here.

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