The company testing cladding and insulation for the Government after the Grenfell Tower fire has a conflict of interest and is not neutral, according to a respected academic. Professor Richard Hull, a chemistry and fire science expert from the University of Central Lancashire, has accused the Building Research Establishment (BRE) of having an “unhealthy” mixture of commercial and advisory roles.
By Gerard Tubb, Sky News Correspondent, and Nick Stylianou, Sky News Reporter
The company testing cladding and insulation for the Government after the Grenfell Tower fire has a conflict of interest and is not neutral, according to a respected academic.
Professor Richard Hull, a chemistry and fire science expert from the University of Central Lancashire, has accused the Building Research Establishment (BRE) of having an “unhealthy” mixture of commercial and advisory roles.
He made the claim after Sky News established that the BRE wrote a report saying there was no case for regulating toxic smoke from plastic insulation, at the same time as being paid by plastic insulation companies.
Sky News revealed last month that the insulation on Grenfell Tower gave off deadly hydrogen cyanide gas, and at least three victims had been treated for cyanide poisoning.
There are currently no regulations on the volume of smoke produced by insulation or the danger it can pose.
BRE was recruited by the European Commission “to evaluate the need to regulate… on the toxicity of smoke produced by construction products in fires”.
Its final draft report says “there would be limited benefits” from any new regulations, which could “increase costs”.
It concludes that its study found no agreed case for regulating toxic smoke, which could “potentially remove some products from the market”.
BRE, a UK charity with a £48m turnover, is paid for fire testing by some of the biggest foam insulation manufacturers.
During the study, BRE consulted at least a dozen plastics industry associations, lobby groups and individuals, several of which represent firms that also pay BRE for commercial testing and development.
Despite the number of industry participants, the minutes of the study’s first meeting record the expanded polystyrene lobby group EUMEPS complaining there could be “an under-representation of sectors that might be most affected by additional testing requirements e.g. plastics”.
Professor Hull, who was part of the study team as an independent expert, has accused BRE of having an “unhealthy” mixture of commercial and advisory roles.
He said: “I was disappointed when I heard BRE would be leading the study, I thought it would be a more neutral player.
“I think they depend very heavily on a large amount of testing of effectively combustible materials… so I think there is a conflict of interest there.”
Sky News has previously revealed concerns from a lawyer acting for some of the Grenfell Tower victims about key BRE figures appointed by the Government to give building safety advice since the disaster.
Jolyon Maugham QC said BRE trustee Sir Ken Knight and chief executive Peter Bonfield were “tainted by association” through their links to advice given to ministers last year that combustible material on tower blocks was acceptable because building controls were “adequate”.
BRE also sells access to an improved set of fire safety standards that could have prevented the Grenfell Tower disaster while advising the Government on building regulations.
The head of the Fire Protection Association, Jonathan O’Neill, told Sky News that the improved standards address shortcomings in the statutory regulations that Grenfell Tower relied on.
DG Grow, the Brussels department that commissioned the smoke toxicity study, said the final report from BRE is yet to be delivered.
A spokesman added: “Any action on smoke toxicity at European level will be subject to the normal consultation and decision making process.”
BRE has not responded to a request for comment.