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A leading fire safety official has told the Guardian that his organisation has warned ministers for years that building regulations connected to fire needed to be improved, but that reviews were repeatedly delayed.

Dr Jim Glocking, technical director of the Fire Protection Association (FPA), an industry body which carries out tests on fire safety issues, among other things, said a major issues was that insulation underneath cladding on the outside of tower blocks did not need to be fireproof.

Glocking said that while he did not know the situation at Grenfell Tower, the rapid spread of the blaze indicated thus could be the case.

He said the association had received increasing numbers of reports about insulation on the outside of buildings catching light.

“They can be slapping on up to 300mm deep of polystyrene on the outside of the building,” he said. “It can be very significant. I have no knowledge of what happened in this particular case.”

Laboratory tests on such cladding carried out by the FPA “found that there was scope for really large-scale fire spread under certain circumstances”, he said.

“The problem with external fire spread is that, obviously, the external envelope is the communicating feature of all areas of the building. It does offer scope for very rapid and large-scale fire spread, on a scale that was unheard of, but we’re starting to hear more of, certainly around the world.”

Glocking said that while having windows open in summer would increase the spread of fire into flats, FPA laboratory tests had show it could also happen via external wall pipes to bathrooms or kitchens.

He added: “think the inexcusable element here is that with cladding or insulation there are choices. There will be a perfectly good non-combustible choice that can be made, but somebody is not making those calls.”

The FPA had “lobbied long and hard” for building regulations on the issue to be changed, but nothing had happened, Glocking said: “Various ministers have said over the years that there will be an imminent review, but it keeps being put on hold, in spite of organisations like ourselves campaigning very hard.”

I asked Glocking if the FPA’s message to government had been that if nothing was done then there could be a very major incident.

He replied: “Sadly, that is very much the case.”

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