Croatia, the EU and Grenfel Tower

Amid the bewildering discovery that Surrey seemingly has higher skyscrapers than London – at least based on the heights of their respective fire services’ hydraulic platforms we now discover that the EU also played a role in the disaster and one which does not show it in a good light.

In order to comply with EU carbon reduction plans housing energy efficiency has been pursued with vigour. This is the reason why most high rise blocks in the UK have been swathed in cladding – it was the only way of improving their thermal efficiency without tearing them down and starting again.

For the purposes of insulation, polyisocyanurate (PIR) used on Grenfell tower was 30% more efficient than its fireproof competitor, which if it were used, at over six inches would probably be physically too thick to attach to the outside of the tower.

So to do the right thing for energy efficiency, PIR insulation was fitted.

Meanwhile, even before Croatia joined the EU in 2013 they were party to technical talks on fire standards. And they had already flagged up that these (PIR) insulating materials were vulnerable in fire and should be required to comply with a stricter fire safety standard. The research team recommended the British Standard, BS8414 for high-rise buildings. They went on to say there was an indissoluble link between energy performance and fire performance of buildings, and that the EU-mandated fire test standards were wholly inadequate.

But Britain is part of the EU, and has no competence to authorise this standard, the EU alone has this competence (single market and all that). So Britain already had a sufficient standard but it appears, the British government seems to have ignored or at the very least failed to vigorously support the Croatian research with the EU.

So I can only agree with Richard North, on whose very comprehensive article this one is based “ when it [comes] to framing regulations, the Community law-making machine [is] not very good at it.”

And the British government is also seen to be asleep at the wheel – whether as a result of fire service cuts or a hollowed out civil service, or just incompetence, will presumably be something for the inquiry to discover.

Even China, for goodness sake, bases its approval for its high rise insulation on the British Standard BS8414.

Brexiteers may gain satisfaction that the EU had a part in the biggest UK fire disaster of our times but could they also see their way to suggest that Her Britannic Majesty’s UK government take a course in humility and learn from the system of governance in Croatia?

Comments

  1. Sean Danaher -

    Hi Peter
    we normally agree on most things but I’m not convinced. I am convinced that climate change is anthropomorphic and real and applaud the EU for taking it seriously. You state:

    In order to comply with EU carbon reduction plans housing energy efficiency has been pursued with vigour

    My perception is different: “How the Green Deal turned into the green disaster” is one example of the fact that whereas the government “talks the talk” it doesn’t “walk the walk” and Andrea Leadsom is widely viewed as being a disaster as Environment secretary and a Climate Change “Sceptic” to boot.

    For the purposes of insulation, polyisocyanurate (PIR) used on Grenfell tower was 30% more efficient than its fireproof competitor, which if it were used, at over six inches would probably be physically too thick to attach to the outside of the tower.

    I have no reason to doubt the first half of this but whereas six inches would be very thick for a small domestic dwelling, given the size of a tower-block I’m not sure the difference between 4.2 inches and 6 inches (from the 30%) figure would have made much difference.

    I don’t have time today to read Richard North’s article, but really I would like to see a proper statistical analysis of EU, UK and say US regulations. In each case there will be the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m sure in each case it will be possible to find examples of poorly drawn ones and possibly there is some hubris in the belief that the UK is better at this than the EU?

    1. Peter May -

      I sort of agree with the six inches – but the thinking was, as I understand it, why do we have to have 6 inches plus when we can have an equally efficient 4 inches for less money? Extra thickness will have made fitting more tricky.
      I’m afraid I find the fact that the regulations were deemed unsatisfactory by little Croatia rather telling. The fact is the regulations were not fit for purpose and Croatia pointed it out, Britain already possessed the right regulations which were allowed to be superceded and then ignored the unsatisfactory new requirements.
      Chimes perfectly for me with some of the EU food and drink regulations. Chalk in wine anyone? Tate & Lyle added? Perfectly legal – and you don’t have to declare it.
      I always remember being behind someone at the Co-op who had just read the back label of her own label bottle. “I’m not having that wine – I’ve just read what’s in it”, she said to the checkout girl. But she kept another bottle that was not own label. Little did she know that the Co-op is the only retailer who undertakes to provide a list of ingredients in their wines, something which is not legally required!

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