3-quarters of medium-rises use combustible material!

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FBU member LUCY MASOUD (with megaphone) marching for justice for Grenfell survivors

THREE-QUARTERS of cladding systems on new medium-rise buildings use combustible materials, data show.

These include 76 schools, 25 hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and older people’s homes, and 11 university buildings.

Of 66 residential projects that used rainscreen cladding systems in blocks between 11m and 18m in height in 2019 and 2020, 51 are believed to have used combustible insulation.

This comes despite a proposed government ban on the use of such materials in these buildings. A consultation on doing so closed in May last year, with no official response yet published.

The government recently announced that leaseholders in buildings in this height bracket would be forced to repay long-term loans to cover the removal of combustible cladding from their walls, rather than receive direct government funding.

Many are currently unable to obtain mortgages because banks will not lend until the buildings have been remediated.

Frances Maria Peacock, a chartered architectural technologist and fire engineer said she was ‘concerned’ by the data but not surprised.

‘These combustible products tend to be cheaper and it’s become a standard thing to use them in the industry,’ she said. ‘A lot of people are thinking that if it doesn’t fall directly under the ban, why shouldn’t they use it.

‘But it does worry me. If you’ve got a low-rise building, there’s more of a chance of people getting out, but the risk is still there especially for people with disabilities, older people or small children who cannot evacuate as quickly or easily as others.’

The government banned the use of combustible materials in buildings above 18m in 2018.

In January 2020, housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced plans to reduce it to 11m – following a series of fires in blocks below 18m, including in Bolton and Barking, east London.

But the consultation on doing so closed in May 2020 and the government has not yet published a response.

As it is, current building guidance says there are ‘no provisions’ restricting the use of combustible materials in buildings below 18m, provided they are more than 1m from the boundary of another property.

Julie Fraser, a spokesperson for the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign, said: ‘We are dumbfounded by the fact that hundreds of “medium-rise” buildings are still being constructed using combustible insulation.

‘One of the clear issues that has been uncovered by the building safety crisis is that buildings below 18m have been constructed with even less regard for important safety measures, due to the weak regulations in place that allow developers to save a few pounds.

‘As it stands, this two-tier system is set to continue, and will mean new homeowners will also potentially be trapped.’

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has recently heard how serious fire test failures in systems containing combustible insulation products were suppressed by manufacturers for years.

Fire Brigade Union member Lucy Masoud said: ‘This is just shocking after what we know about flammable material and what is coming out of the inquiry. It is unbelievable that we are still finding companies that are willing to use flammable cladding and put people’s lives at risk.

‘What will it take for companies to realise that it is in no one’s interest to keep using cladding that is dangerous. Any material that is flammable that is on a building has no business being there no matter how high the building is. It must be immediately removed.’