News that the Government are taking steps to prevent the use of combustible cladding on buildings can only be welcomed in light of the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017. However the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have pointed out this does not go far enough.
The secretary of state for housing, communities, and local government, James Brokenshire, has confirmed that panels which are similar to those used in Grenfell will now be forbidden by building regulations. Unfortunately this does not amount to a ban on all flammable materials, which is what the FBU’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, has been calling for. He has raised concerns that the government is still allowing the use of cladding with limited combustibility and in particular, that they have not taken action on the hundreds of buildings across the UK which already have Grenfell-style cladding.
After the fire in 2017, the government allocated £400million to assist in making social housing safer. However this fund did not apply to many tower blocks which were not part of housing associations and therefore many residents are still living in buildings where they now feel unsafe.
The Westminster government have defended themselves by stating that the new measures will save lives. While this is undoubtedly true, they could and should go further. As suggested by the FBU, the ban on combustible materials should be extended to all buildings, and not just those over 18 metres high, and it should include A2 materials. A2 materials are those which include elements like metal, stone, and glass, which seldom contribute to fires, and plasterboard, which makes no significant contribution. Although the contribution from these materials may be small, the risk is still there. It would seem sensible that buildings should now only be constructed from materials in Class A1, which have no contribution to fire at any stage.
In Scotland, the building regulations relating to the fire safety of building cladding were already strengthened in 2005 to ensure that cladding on high rise properties was non-combustible. Unfortunately this did not assist buildings which had been built with flammable material prior to that date. This included flats at the Glasgow Harbour development, however thankfully the housing developer there, Taylor Wimpey, has now agreed to meet the significant costs of replacing this cladding.
It can only be hoped that these steps will help to avoid another disaster like Grenfell and housing developers will no longer be able to forego safety in favour of saving money. In the meantime, the inquiry into the events at Grenfell Tower is ongoing and it remains to be seen whether justice will be done for those who lived there.
Blog by Claire Campbell, Solicitor