Cladding removal exposes further fire hazards

Cladding removal exposes further fire hazards

EXPERTS HAVE revealed that as combustible cladding is removed from high rises, a ‘catalogue of fire safety failures’ have been found ‘hidden beneath’.

The Times reported that photographs of towers that have seen cladding removed have shown ‘construction projects have been signed off as safe despite glaring failures in fire safety required under building regulations’. Some buildings photographed feature ‘no fire barriers built into the cladding system to stop flames spreading between floors’, as well as ‘no fire protection for air vents to stop fire spreading into a tower’, and products used ‘that had not been signed off as safe’.

At a parliamentary committee hearing, Claire Curtis-Thomas, chief executive of the British Board of Agrément (BBA) which ‘issues compliance certificates for construction products and systems’, stated that it had evidence from a whistleblower ‘of at least 30 towers that would still fail to meet fire safety building regulations despite having their flammable cladding removed’, and that the organisation believed ‘hundreds of towers could be affected’.

The BBA reported concerns to the government and is calling for ‘every tall building that has had a cladding system retrofitted to be inspected by independent experts and for the reports to be made public’. Ms Curtis-Thomas stated: ‘There is clear photographic evidence that the original substructures on to which the cladding was fixed do not meet building standards. We believe it’s a common occurrence.’

She also noted that the BBA was ‘not reassured by the explanations we have seen’, adding that ‘we are further concerned that the people involved in the original works may possibly now be involved in the repair works. It is generally not very good to mark your own homework’. Among building photographs shown to The Times were Cygnet House and Wren House, 13 storey high rises in Liverpool.

Owner One Vision Housing responding that the cladding ‘met building regulations’ but that after the Grenfell Tower fire the buildings ‘had not passed’ the government’s fire safety tests, and so it was removed. A spokeswoman added that the company was ‘co-operating with structural engineers, local authority building control, fire engineering consultants and the fire service to replace the cladding’, while Sefton Council responded that its building control team ‘had undertaken regular site inspections of the works’.

Another building identified was the 15 storey Hanover Tower owned by Sheffield City Council, with BBA inspectors discovering fire safety failures. The council found that the cladding used was ‘not the solid aluminium panels agreed with the contractor’, but was combustible, and so it has removed the cladding and the insulation.

A Sheffield council spokeswoman stated: ‘Independent experts are supporting the council’s in-house design team with the remediation design work and quality assurance at every stage of the new cladding installation. Work is not due to start until September. Sheffield will be concluding its investigation into the cladding fitted shortly.’

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government responded: ‘Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we acted quickly to establish a comprehensive testing programme, issued clear guidance to building owners and commissioned an independent review of building regulations and fire safety. It is for building owners to ensure their buildings are safe and they should employ competent experts to advise them.’