Combustibles ban announced amid industry criticism
THE GOVERNMENT banned the use of combustible materials on residential high rises, hospitals, care premises and student accommodation over 18m, but industry reactions were critical.
Housing Secretary James Brokenshire announced the ban at the Conservative Party conference, with the government stating later that following the Grenfell Tower fire, it had ‘established a comprehensive building safety programme’ and an independent review of building regulations and fire safety, and that earlier this year it ‘said it would it ban the use of combustible materials on external walls of high-rise buildings subject to consultation’.
After this consultation, it has now confirmed the ban will go forward and apply to all high rise buildings containing flats ‘as well as hospitals, residential care premises and student accommodation above 18 metres’. The ban will be delivered ‘through changes to building regulations and will limit materials available to products achieving a European classification of Class A1 or A2.
In response, the National Fire Chiefs Council stated that it welcomed the ban but was ‘disappointed it hasn’t gone further’, because it will not apply to buildings under 18m in height ‘especially when those buildings are used to house vulnerable people’. It noted that regulations ‘already restrict or control the use of combustible materials on buildings at 18 metres or above’, though welcomes the ‘intention’ to ‘offer even greater certainty’ to residents and the construction industry’.
It pointed out that the use of combustible materials ‘has been discovered to be so prevalent’ that this ‘suggests other interpretations have been reached, or that the options provided by guidance have been misused’. The NFCC urged caution, stating that the ban should not be considered ‘job done’, and while it was pleased that the ban extends to all combustible cladding and not just aluminium composite material (ACM), it believes ‘there is more to do’ to protect residents.
NFCC chair Roy Wilsher commented: ‘While I am pleased this has resulted in a ban of ACM and other combustible cladding, I am disappointed this does not go further and apply to buildings of any height. We believe buildings (including care homes and hospitals) below 18 metres in height should be afforded the same protection as those above this threshold.
‘There may be residents living in buildings which still have materials on them - slightly outside the scope - resulting in people being concerned for their safety. We are also of the opinion that A2 should be further refined than the current AD-B expectation. This classification can allow for high smoke production and flaming droplets, and we recommend that these aspects should be further controlled.
‘I look forward to seeing how this ban will be implemented practically and it is essential there are no unintended consequences. We must also take into account the latest advice issued by the Independent Expert Panel (September 20th) which states leaving any amount of ACM cladding on a building would continue to pose a hazard to residents and firefighters in the event of a fire. The focus must be on making people feel safe, therefore there must be a plan in place to achieve this.’
In contrast, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said that the ban ‘does not go far enough’, was not the ‘outright ban called for’ and was ‘designed for political convenience’, and had failed to ‘address the issue’ of cladding already used on hundreds of buildings across England. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, stated: “This is not the outright ban on combustible cladding that firefighters have been calling for.
‘The Westminster government continues to allow cladding of limited combustibility for any building work in the future. The FBU called for a universal ban on these flammable materials. Many residents of high-rise residential buildings and firefighters wanted more comprehensive action taken against flammable cladding. This government has failed to deliver.’
The FBU called for the measures to apply to all buildings and ban the use of A2 materials, with A1 and A2 class materials including metal, stone and glass, which The Guardian said ‘seldom contribute to fires’.
A spokesman for Mr Brokenshire responded: ‘We are saddened to see the response of the Fire Brigades’ Union. We consulted on this very important matter and indeed went beyond what was asked of us. These measures will save lives, and we are clear building safety is at the very heart of what Mr Brokenshire is doing.’