Focus continues on combustibly clad student blocks

Focus continues on combustibly clad student blocks

AROUND 18 blocks nationwide still have aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, with the recent concerns about high pressure laminate (HPL) also adding to concerns.

The Times reported that 18 accommodation blocks for students nationwide still have ACM cladding, with building managers of such blocks ‘being urged’ by the government to remove the cladding ‘urgently’. One such block is the 10 storey Tower in Portsmouth, which late last month was found to have failed the government’s fire safety tests, with owner Highbury College revealing a £2.9m remediation bill for the 65 room tower, which houses students aged between 16 and 18.

Last week, the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed that there are no ‘immediate’ safety concerns at that tower, after The Cube building in Bolton caught fire on Friday 15 November, with that six storey building seeing fire spread ‘extremely rapidly’. Two people were injured in the fire, which began on the fourth floor, saw the top floor ‘gutted’ and the fourth and fifth floors ‘visibly damaged’, with 200 GMFRS firefighters and 40 appliances required to fight it ‘at its height’.

Over 100 students were evacuated, with eyewitnesses stating that the fire was ‘crawl[ing] up the cladding like it was nothing’, had ‘quickly exposed’ the building’s frame, and had been ‘climbing up and to the right’ due to wind, flames ‘bubbling from the outside and then being engulfed from the outside’. It was also described as having grown ‘like crazy’ and spreading ‘so rapidly’, while reports claimed that fire alarms in some flats ‘were not loud enough’.

Students stated that alarms ‘go off almost every day’ in the building, which led to confusion ‘over whether it was a drill or a false alarm’. GMFRS had requested a fire safety assessment in 2018, including a cladding assessment, with ‘unspecified’ works undertaken – according to council records, it was reclad with HPL in 2018.

Of the 18 towers remaining, The Times noted that one is 22 storeys high, and quoted Richard Hull, professor of chemistry and fire science at the University of Central Lancashire, who noted that HPL cladding materials ‘released heat 25 times faster than non-combustible materials’ – despite this having been used on Lakanal House, which caught fire in 2009, and the coroner for which ‘warned about the risk’ of HPL ‘but no action was taken’.

 

Mr Hull pointed out that ‘we are lucky we have now had this wake-up call without any further deaths’, while The Times also pointed out that two of the other blocks clad in ACM include Leicester’s The Summit – which is now seeing work begin on removing the material – and St James’ Point in Newcastle upon Tyne, both managed by Student Roost.

The National Union of Students’ Eva Crossan Jory commented: ‘We want to see immediate action from government to audit all cladding that could be causing fire-safety issues and remove it immediately if it is likely to exacerbate a fire.’

In turn, a government spokesman added: ‘Last year, the government banned combustible materials on the external walls of new high-rise homes. We have told building owners how to check the type of cladding on their building and that, if it is not safe, it must be removed.’