Government opens cladding fire safety consultation

Government opens cladding fire safety consultation

THE GOVERNMENT’S consultation will look at ‘restricting or banning’ use of desktop studies in assessments of cladding system fire performance on residential buildings.

In a press release, the government stated that the consultation includes ‘tough new rules designed to strengthen fire testing for cladding systems on residential buildings’, with Housing Secretary Sajid Javid launching the initiative. Its aim is to ‘improve building safety’, while looking at ‘restricting or banning the use of “desktop studies” as a way of assessing the fire performance of external cladding systems’.

In turn, it pointed out that the changes ‘come directly as a result’ of Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim report recommendations, as part of her review of building regulations and fire safety, and the government claimed that it is ‘going further’ by asking if desktop studies ‘should be used at all’. The consultation seeks views on whether such studies are ‘appropriate for all construction products, wall systems (cladding) or for any other purpose’.

If the studies are deemed appropriate, proposed changes include ‘improving the transparency of assessments, enabling proper scrutiny of results and ensuring that the studies can only be carried out by properly accredited bodies that have the relevant expertise’. The full consultation will end on 25 May this year, and once received the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will consider all the comments’ and ‘provide a response as soon as possible’.

Mr Javid commented: ‘We have listened carefully to Dame Judith Hackitt and we are taking action to strengthen building regulations guidance, which could mean that the use of ‘desktop studies’ are either significantly restricted or banned altogether. This demonstrates the tough measures we are prepared to take to make sure that cladding tests are as robust as possible and people are safe in their homes.’

In more detail, the government noted that desktop studies are assessments made ‘in lieu of tests’, and are an ‘established part of the system for classifying the fire performance of construction products and systems’ within Approved Document B (ADB). The consultation is considering their use, and the government has also commissioned the British Standards Institution (BSI) to draft a standard for the ‘extended application’ of BS 8414 results.

This would ‘provide detailed rules for assessments relating to cladding systems, in support of the new proposed requirements’, and once the standard is introduced for cladding systems, ‘following it would be the expectation’. Dame Judith’s interim report called for the government to ‘significantly restrict’ the use of desktop studies, while the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) believes they ‘should be banned entirely’.

Recently nearly 50 MPs from across UK political parties were revealed to have written to the government to warn about what they term a ‘dangerous weakening’ of building regulations with relation to desktop studies. A letter was sent to Mr Javid after the MHCLG announced it would ‘revise the wording’ on desktop studies in ADB, to which he replied stating that this was ‘categorically not the case’, ahead of this latest consultation news.