Combustible cladding buildings ‘may still be unsafe to occupy’

Combustible cladding buildings ‘may still be unsafe to occupy’

DR BARBARA Lane of Arup has said hundreds of buildings nationwide with combustible cladding ‘may still be unsafe to occupy’ despite ‘reassurances given by government’.

Inside Housing reported on Dr Lane’s comments, which it called a ‘withering assessment’ of the government’s responses to buildings clad with aluminium composite material (ACM). Dr Lane, who was an expert witness during the first phase of the Grenfell inquiry, criticised the government for its ‘starting position’ that the buildings nationwide are ‘safe to occupy’, with only 114 of 433 high rises found to have ACM having completed removal and replacement works, leaving 321 yet to begin.

This was across both the social and private housing sectors, and Dr Lane – in a report on the inquiry’s recommendations so far – stated: ‘My primary concern, currently, is that the starting position by MHCLG appears to be that the high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding remain safe to occupy. Not the opposite. I am unclear how this position has been derived and validated by the MHCLG.’

In turn, she said that work to check if buildings were safe ‘has been delegated to individual local authorities to determine, but I can ascertain no minimum safety standard requirement’, while ‘there has also been no evidence’ to demonstrate that fire and rescue services have the ‘necessary equipment and strategies’ to either evacuate or fight a fire at an ACM clad building.

Dr Lane said that ‘clarity on all the issues above would result in a subset of buildings that may in fact be unsafe to occupy at this time by some, or potentially all, types of residents’, and that the issue required ‘prioritisation at a national scale’ to ensure resources for fixing buildings most at risk, which ‘will take years to plan and deliver. This time frame is very significant. Because it means the risk to life is therefore not short-term how are the current mitigation measures considered fit for purpose in this longer timescale?

‘Again, this will impact what buildings can be categorised as safe to occupy, over this period. I cannot find such clarity in the evidence provided from the MCHLG’. She called on inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick to recommend developing a standardised method ‘for calculating the risk to life’, a ‘nationally led’ prioritisation of work and publishing ‘minimum mitigation measures’ in the interim – points he ‘elected not to make’ recommendations for in the first phase report.

He did however call for remediation to be completed ‘as vigorously as possible’, and Dr Lane also called for ‘significant changes’ to material testing and certification, adding that a certificate published by the British Board of Agrement (BBA) in 2008 said Arconic’s ACM cladding met the standard of Class 0, but contained ‘a startling series of omissions’ regarding further test data carried out during nine years in operation.

As a consequence, she called for a recommendation that certificates ‘should no longer be published’ without all test data ‘upon which they rely’ being made available, including pass and fail data, though Inside Housing noted that the BBA ‘does not carry out tests itself and is currently reliant on manufacturers to provide this data’.

Large scale testing was also criticised, Dr Lane calling for a ‘moratorium’ on new data from such tests, while she also called for a new test that ‘better reflects real world buildings’.