A major fire that swept through a block of student flats in Bolton on Friday has raised fresh concerns over the ‘cladding lottery’ still facing housing-block residents across the country
Two people were injured in the blaze when it tore through The Cube, a six-storey student accommodation building on Friday night (15 November), with videos showing it spreading quickly across the façade.
According to planning records, the building was converted from offices to student rooms in 2015 by Chester-based practice RADM Architects. The practice refused to comment when contacted by the AJ.
The fire brigade has stressed that the type of cladding used on the block was not the same as the aluminium composite cladding (ACM) used on Grenfell Tower.
The mayor of Salford, Paul Dennett, told ITV that the cladding used on the block was high-pressure laminate (HPL). RADM’s planning drawings specify a brand of HPL called Trespa Mateon, though this could have been substituted at a later date.
Dennett said: ‘Needless to say, at the moment we have a bit of a cladding lottery. Government has made resources available for ACM. This is high-pressure laminate.
‘So we will be asking government for more funds and more money to really deal with what is an industrial crisis the UK are facing at the moment in terms of cladding on buildings.’
While attention has focused on ACM, experts have also issued warnings over the fire risks of HPL, which is made by layering sheets of wood or paper fibre with resin.
In July the government issued a fire risk notice advising that, when combined with combustible insulation, most HPL panels were unlikely to resist the spread of a blaze.
After the Bolton fire, Grenfell United called for the declaration of a national emergency over the lack of action.
The group tweeted: ‘It brings back memories of Grenfell and we can’t believe that over two and a half years later this is happening. Our hearts go out to all the students affected.
‘Hundreds of people go to bed scared every night in buildings covered with dangerous materials. When will this be treated as a national emergency? This cannot go on.’
The fire took place in the lower of two buildings that make up The Cube. The fire brigade confirmed that the building that caught fire is recorded as being under 18m and, therefore, ‘not classified as a high rise building’.
This means it would not be covered by the government’s ban on combustibles which only applied to buildings above 18m.
An investigation will be carried out to establish not just the cause of the fire but also the effect that the cladding had its spread, the fire service said.
In a statement, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) said that after Grenfell, it requested the fire risk assessment for The Cube was reviewed and the materials used in the external wall system identified and assessed.
This assessment was shared with GMFRS and in 2018, ‘subsequent work was undertaken to both buildings by the building owners’.
The Cube is managed by Urban Student Life (USL) for landlord Idealsite. In a statement, USL said it was ‘not responsible for the construction of or subsequent amendments to the construction of the Cube buildings’.
A Ministry of Housing spokesperson said that public safety was its ’‘our utmost priority’ and further test results would be published later this summer.
‘We’re very clear: no buildings in this country should have the combination of HPL cladding and combustible insulation.
‘Building owners are legally responsible for ensuring the safety of their buildings and they must ensure this is the case.’
In response to the Bolton fire, Jane Duncan, chair of the RIBA’s expert fire safety group said the blaze had demonstrated once again, that the lessons from the Grenfell Tower tragedy have not been learnt.
She added: ’It is vital that the next government steps up and takes this housing safety emergency seriously – with a comprehensive overhaul of the UK’s building safety regulations.’
The RIBA will continue to lobby for strong baseline fire safety regulations on the use of combustible materials, means of warning and escape, and sprinkler systems. Urgent action is needed – people’s lives are at risk.”