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Govt decision to ban combustible cladding on high-rises 'doesn't go far enough' say fire specialists

Criticism at limited scope and continued allowance of ‘limited combustibility’ materials

Housing minister James Brokenshire’s announcement of a ban for combustible cladding on new residential buildings above 18m - as well as for those hospitals, residential care premises and student accommodation above 18m - has been criticised for not going far enough in its building scope and in its material focus.

Mr Brokenshire said that cladding in all such newbuild critical buildings would need to be of ’limited combustibility’ or ’non-combustible’, (I.e.with a European classification of A2, covering materials such as plasterboard and A1, covering inorganic materials such as stone, metal and glass respectively). 

But the announcement drew stinging criticism from groups such as the Fire Brigades Union, which reiterated its call that cladding should only be of non-combustible materials and that it should apply to all buildings, not just to critical newbuilds.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The Westminster government continues to allow cladding of limited combustibility for any building work in the future. The FBU called for a universal ban on these flammable materials. These measures do not deal with the existing cladding on nearly 500 buildings across England where people live and work every day.”

He added: ”The government’s proposals only apply to buildings over 18 metres high, plus hospitals, care homes and student accommodation – when they should apply to all buildings, whatever their height or use. They continue to allow A2 materials, when they should permit only the highest standard of A1”. 

He reiterated calls for a national independent programme of research into building materials, funded by government, along with a government-run testing regime for materials.

The latest ban on combustible cladding, which comes after a public consultation, will be delivered through changes to building regulations, Mr Brokenshire said. Wholesale changes to the building regs are expected as a result of Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review.

The government’s emphasis on material bans has also been criticised by BESA chief executive David Frise, who argued that it risks shifting the focus away from a culture of ‘building it right.’

At H&V News’s recent Round Table on Fire Safety, he warned of a possible danger in focusing on just one specific problem in isolation.

He said, “Fire safety should come as a consequence of constructing a building properly.”

Mr Frise said that an isolated focus on fire safety, undertaken within the culture that currently pervades the construction industry would likely lead to buildings being sealed as tightly as possible, and the ventilation barely considered.

He said, “In ten years’ time, we will be asking, ‘Why are so many people in these buildings ill?’ ‘Why have we got damp?’ Because we have focused on making buildings fire-safe as opposed to looking at the building as a whole.”

See the debate on HVAC and fire safety in the October H&V News p20-24 here.

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