Non ACM cladding tests to begin in March

Non ACM cladding tests to begin in March

THE GOVERNMENT’S plans to test cladding that is not made from aluminium composite material (ACM) will begin in March, and results are expected in the summer.

Earlier this month, the government announced it widened its fire testing regime to include other materials than aluminium composite material (ACM), which could mean ‘potential uncertainty for thousands more residents’. Housing Minister Kit Malthouse ordered combustibility tests on cladding panels used on high rise residential blocks, hotels and student accommodation ‘that differ’ from ACM panels used on 437 buildings ‘identified so far’.

Research suggests that ‘at least’ 160 high rises have been built with materials used in rainscreen cladding systems ‘that have not been accounted for’ in prior government testing. These include high pressure laminate (HPL) panels made from compressed wood or paper fibre, used to produce ‘colourful skins for new buildings’, and some of which are classed as combustible.

Mr Malthouse stated that fire safety experts had updated guidance for the government, adding that ‘we have commissioned the Building Research Establishment [BRE] to conduct a programme of testing on non-ACM materials and we expect that testing to start shortly’. He added that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) had been ‘cajoling’ private building owners to remove ACM panels, and was considering ‘more assertive’ measures.

This was because the latest government figures showed that only five of 176 privately owned towers identified as having combustible ACM cladding had seen panels replaced. An urgent question in parliament had been lodged by shadow housing and communities secretary John Healey, to which Mr Malthouse replied: ‘There remain 42 private residential buildings for which the owner’s plans are unclear, so we are maintaining pressure and rule out no solutions.’

Now, Inside Housing has reported that the tests will begin in March and results expected to be published in the summer, according to Mr Malthouse’s comments at the housing, communities and local government select committee this week. MHCLG’s head of the building safety technical policy division, Bob Ledsome, also appeared and said that BRE’s final reports were expected ‘certainly by the summer’.

Mr Malthouse, when asked if the government would ‘seek to remove’ such cladding if it was ‘as dangerous’ as ACM, stated that ‘I can’t see that we’ll have any choice but to do that, yes. If it’s equivalent to ACM cladding and proven to be the same then the tenants, leaseholders or whoever’s in the building would expect remediation’.

The news outlet noted that insulation business Rockwool has previously claimed there are another 1,678 high rise or high risk buildings with non ACM combustible cladding, with some social landlords already having ‘taken steps’ to remove it from their buildings.