Industry responds to combustibles ban

Industry responds to combustibles ban

WITH THE recent ban entering into law, the Fire Protection Association (FPA), National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Local Authority Building Control (LABC) and Fire Brigades Union (FBU) all responded.

In a release last week, the government confirmed the ban that it had announced in the summer on combustible material use in new high rise buildings, with regulations laid out in parliament today that will ‘give legal effect’ to the ban. Combustible materials will not be permitted on external walls of new buildings 18m tall or higher that contain flats, hospitals, residential care premises, boarding school dormitories or student accommodation.

Schools that are over 18m in height and built as part of the government’s centrally delivered build programmes will also not use combustible materials on external walls. Jonathan O’Neill, managing director of the FPA, commented: ‘The Fire Protection Association welcomes the announcement, but we would urge the ministry to urgently consider banning the use of combustible materials for all high risk occupancies regardless of the height of the building. We also believe they need to build on the work we published [last week] and to consider the toxicity of all building materials in the case of fire.’

The NFCC ‘broadly welcomed’ the ban, but ‘expressed concerns’ that ‘key aspects need to go further’, chair Roy Wilsher commenting that he was ‘supportive’, but adding: ‘I am disappointed this ban does not go further and apply to buildings of any height. Buildings below 18 metres should be afforded the same protection as other buildings.

‘This threshold is a historical height which does not reflect modern firefighting equipment and practices. As such, we hope the full review of Approved Document B [ADB] the Government has committed to will properly reconsider the appropriateness of the 18 metre threshold.  We believe the ban should extend not just to hospitals, care homes, and student accommodation, but to all buildings that house vulnerable people, such as specialised housing.

‘We look forward to the call for evidence on the full technical review of ADB. We will also be calling for improvements to sprinkler requirements, firefighting access and other provisions needed to help make communities safer, such as technical requirements for fire hydrants.’

Terry McDermott, NFCC lead for automatic water suppression systems, added: ‘Sprinkler requirements in Wales and Scotland surpass those in England, including domestic sprinklers in new social housing developments and suppression systems in new homes. NFCC would like to see English standards increased to at least the equivalent to these, improving consistency across the UK.’

The council also noted that it recommends sprinklers ‘become a requirement in all new high-rise residential structures above 18 metres’ alongside student accommodation, and that high rise residential buildings above 30m should be required ‘to retrofit sprinklers when these buildings are scheduled to be refurbished’, or when they are served by one staircase ‘regardless of future refurbishment’.

LABC chief executive Paul Everall stated: ‘We believe the Secretary of State’s decision to amend the approved documents to ban combustible cladding and to enforce cladding removal in private blocks will give reassurance to communities concerned about fire safety. Owners of private residential blocks needing remediation work now have the clarity they need on the use of non-combustible systems and products to get on with the job.

‘And our colleagues in local authority housing teams will have additional powers and resources to deal with those private building owners who aren’t moving fast enough on necessary remediation work. LABC will support all professionals and building owners to deliver fire safety strategies and safer buildings. We look forward to further announcements implementing all 53 of the Hackitt Review’s recommendations to create the systemic change Dame Judith and the vast majority of the industry want to see.’

Finally, the FBU stated that despite focusing on ACM, ‘evidence suggests that the government may be grossly underestimating the number of buildings clad in combustible materials’, with around 2,315 such buildings existing and the ban only accounting for around 457 privately owned buildings. General secretary Matt Wrack said: ‘The focus on only privately-owned buildings is misguided – the true scale of the problem is much bigger. Buildings up and down the country are unsafe - the government must address it as a whole, rather than providing a sticking plaster.

‘Not only has the government taken too long to act, but their plans do not go far enough. We are clear, that to prevent another tragedy from occurring, all combustible cladding must urgently be replaced on all buildings, irrespective of height. This would require a major national programme to assess and prioritise the scale of the risk and adopt interim safety measures which residents, other building users and firefighters could have confidence in.

‘Combustible cladding must be avoided at all costs. The government must listen to the experts and ensure a full and proper review of materials and the effects of fire toxicity. We are calling for a blanket ban on all combustible materials which do not meet A1 classification, or are deemed to be of ‘limited combustibility’ but are ultimately still flammable.’