NFCC calls for ‘urgent’ cladding removal

NFCC calls for ‘urgent’ cladding removal

AT A government committee meeting, National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) chair Roy Wilsher called for the identification and ‘urgent’ removal of combustible and unsafe cladding from high rises.

The NFCC reported on Mr Wilsher’s evidence session at the housing, communities and local government (HCLG) select committee, as part of its inquiry into the independent review of building regulations. Evidence was also given from other organisations and individuals from Grenfell United, the Association of Residential Management Agents, the Local Government Association and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

At the meeting, the committee focused on whether witnesses were ‘satisfied’ with the government’s pace of change; on Dame Judith Hackitt’s concerns that the government ‘has lost momentum’; whether there were areas the government ‘should pay more attention’ to; proposals for a national building safety regulator; periodic reviews of regulations; the recent fire in Barking; and whether the 18m threshold for higher risk residential buildings ‘should be reviewed’.

This session was one of a number held by HCLG after Dame Judith published her review of building regulations and fire safety last year, and aims to look at longer term changes ‘which are needed to improve the safety of residential tower blocks’, as well as how improvements ‘can be applied more widely in the construction industry’; and how ‘longer term systemic and cultural changes’ proposed in the review can be implemented, and how they apply ‘more widely’ to the construction industry.

Mr Wilsher called for both the ‘urgent removal of unsafe cladding systems from buildings’ and for the ‘identification of any similar systems to be made a priority’. He added that the removal ‘needs to go beyond’ aluminium composite material (ACM) to include other flammable materials, as while ACM is ‘uniquely dangerous’, there are other types that will need to be identified and removed.

His evidence also included reiterating the ‘importance of more widespread fitting of sprinklers’ in schools, new residential high rise buildings over 18m in height, and retrofitted in high rise buildings over 30m in height. With English legislation falling behind Wales and Scotland, he added that ‘this needs to change’, with the NFCC wanting the government to ‘prioritise sprinklers’ in its review of building regulations, and require their use and other systems ‘where the risk is greatest’.

He also raised concerns about fire and rescue service (FRS) funding for ‘vital protection work’, as 40% of inspecting officers have been ‘lost’ in 10 years in a role that ‘can take years of training’. With FRSs wanting to be ‘heavily involved’ in building safety, new responsibilities must be ‘adequately resourced’. Mr Wilsher noted that it ‘cannot be left’ to the construction industry to move regulations forward - ‘modern methods of construction need to be tested to ensure they are fire safe’.

He stated: ‘The simple answer to whether NFCC is satisfied with the pace of change by government since the Grenfell Tower fire is “no”. We were one of the organisations who in the days following the fire said that Government should fund the remove of cladding and recover the costs later. I remain concerned about how this will move forward and we may well need emergency powers to enable the removal of all dangerous cladding. 

‘While the Government’s funding to support the removal of dangerous cladding is a welcome, to date, less than a quarter of those premises identified have been fully remediated. People need to feel safe in their own home and there is currently a significant risk of a further serious incident. It is vital we are involved in regulatory work and continue to influence any national regulator, while carrying out work at a local level. Fire services must be properly resourced to carry this work out, and I am in discussions with the Home Office about this to look at how we make this a reality.’