A fire safety warning has been issued by industry experts following a new BBC 5 live investigation revealing that many of the 1,700 buildings that are viewed as at risk across England are likely to fail new cladding and building materials tests, including nursing homes, schools, hospitals and tower blocks.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 72 lives, a public inquiry was carried out, with evidence heard that supported the theory that highly combustible material in the cladding used on the building was the main reason that the fire spread so quickly, taking just minutes to make its way up the exterior of the tower and spread to all four sides.
A government fund has since been set up to remove cladding from other buildings identified with aluminium composite material (ACM), which is what was used on Grenfell. Other types of building and cladding materials are also being tested, such as high pressure laminate (HPL), which is thought to be of particular concern.
Approximately £200 million will be made available to remove and replace unsafe materials from some 170 privately owned high-rise tower blocks where building owners have failed to do so.
“Although temporary measures are in place to ensure people living in these buildings are safe, too many owners are treating this as a permanent fix. Others are trying to pass on the costs to residents by threatening them with bills running to thousands of pounds,” James Brokenshire, communities secretary, said at the beginning of May
The most recent figures show that 156 private buildings haven’t yet had work started in the removal and replacement of ACM cladding, compared to 23 in the private sector. Building owners now have three months to access the new fund and the government will be looking carefully at those who fail to remediate and consider what action can be taken.
The government has recognised the concerns regarding HPL and included it in the new fire safety tests. Dr Jonathan Evans, part of the team testing the cladding after Grenfell, said some of the tests were almost certain to fail and he is now calling for transparency regarding the results when they’re published.
New fire safety regulations were brought in following an independent review of the Grenfell Tower fire, banning combustible materials from external walls of new structures over 59ft tall.
However, chairman of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee Clive Betts has since called for these regulations to be applied to all new buildings, no matter how tall they are. He went on to add that if materials are considered too dangerous for new buildings, they shouldn’t be permitted for existing ones.
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