Cladding concerns still rife two years after Grenfell disaster

figures from the government's report on buildings with ACM claddingTwo years after the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy, in which 72 people tragically died, there are still many buildings with dangerous aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding attached. Concern has been raised over 433 buildings from which ACM needed to be removed with the upmost importance, to avoid a future disaster. However, ACM is still present in 328 tower blocks, having been removed from just 105 buildings.

It took minutes for the fire at Grenfell Tower to establish and it quickly spread to all four sides of the building. The ACM cladding used was found to be 14 times above safe combustibility limits. In the wake of the fire, it emerged that tower blocks were not the only buildings clad in this highly combustible material. The material had been used in residential and publicly owned buildings, causing great concern among home owners and tenants alike. 

The Hackett Review was commissioned by the government to make recommendations on the future regulatory system. Following publication of the report, a £400 million fund was established for social housing landlords to replace the cladding with more flame retardant material. However, the affected tower blocks were not limited to those in social housing sector ownership and privately owned housing tower blocks were left without funding. 

There has been mounting public anger that some freeholders and developers have refused to pay to make buildings safe. After pressure from campaigning groups the government agreed in May 2019 to release funds to enable the replacement of ACM in privately owned residential tower blocks and buildings. A further £200 million of taxpayers’ money was allocated to fund 176 privately owned residential tower blocks with combustible cladding.  However, this sum will fall far short of the cost of the remedial work which is typically £4-5 million per building; the £200 million fund will average just £1.2 million per building.

Testing delays

Building owners sent cladding samples to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government immediately after the Grenfell fire but the flammability testing of non-ACM cladding materials is still not complete. This means that other types of cladding could still be risky if their combustibility is unknown.

One type of cladding which could also be a cause for concern is ‘high pressure laminate’ (HPL). It is commonly used on tower blocks in England and in January this year was found to be highly combustible. The Journal of Hazardous Materials found that HPL burns 115 times hotter than non-combustible products and the author of the study said a similar disaster could occur in buildings clad with this material. The Building Research Establishment has said that none of the cladding systems that had passed the standard BS 8414 safety test included an HPL type of cladding.

Insulation manufacturer, Rockwool, has suggested that as many as 1,678 buildings with non-ACM cladding could still be considered at high risk of fire. Only this month, fire tore through wooden balconies in Barking destroying twenty flats. Although no-one was injured these residents lost their homes, and government action and precautions against future disasters is still at the forefront of residents’ minds.

Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, Danielle Cotton QFSM, has said that the installation of water sprinklers in high rise buildings is paramount but the government is yet to fund this.

Grenfell survivors have had a long wait for the detailed report they were promised on the cause of the fire and the way it spread to the whole building. Chairman of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Sir Moore-Bick, has said the report will not be complete until October 2019, two years after the fire. Many survivors and families of the victims have taken their quest for justice to the US where they are preparing to launch legal action against the manufacturers of the cladding and insulation used on Grenfell.

You can keep up with progress on the Building Safety Programme on the website.

In the UK, if you are concerned about cladding on any property you own, you can contact a Chartered Surveyor for advice on whether your property might be affected.  A structural survey would also give you peace of mind. There is lots of information available online about combustible materials and more suitable lower risk alternatives that can be used when cladding property.

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