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Government recommends ‘specific ban’ on combustible cladding

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The government has recommended a ‘specific ban’ on the use of combustible cladding on residential towers taller than 18m and launched a two-month consultation on the future of the materials

Speaking in parliament yesterday afternoon (18 June) housing secretary James Brokenshire announced that residents, industry bodies and other interested parties will be able to have their say on the issue until 14 August.

The government’s recommendation is to amend the Building Regulations 2010 to include a specific ban with ‘unlimited fines’ for those who do not comply.

Brokenshire said: ‘I have listened carefully to concerns and I intend to ban the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, subject to consultation.

‘The cladding believed to have been used on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations. It should not have been used.’

The move has immediately been backed by the RIBA, which has also called for it to be extended to all buildings – not just housing blocks – taller than 18m. 

It is estimated that fitting a 15-storey new build, requiring 1,700m² of cladding, would cost an additional £25,000-£75,000 per building.

The government is not proposing that the ban apply retrospectively to existing buildings, but it would apply where work has been planned but not yet started on site.

Existing building regulations allow the external surfaces of walls on high rises to be ‘Class 0’-rated materials and insulation to be ‘limited combustibility’. Combustible materials can also achieve compliance if they pass a fire-safety test.

The consultation documents state that the government agrees that systems that have met the test BS 8414 can be considered safe.

But it adds that it ‘recognises the concerns’ that the test does not offer as straightforward a way of meeting the regulation requirements as a ban on the use of combustible materials.

The opening stages of the inquiry into the fire at the west London high-rise a year ago have heard how the aluminium cladding with a plastic core contributed to the rapid spread of the blaze.

Yesterday (18 June) expert witness Barbara Lane told the inquiry how flammable materials were added to the cladding that were not in the original designs.

The government launched the consultation after Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell review of the Building Regulations was criticised by groups including the RIBA for its failure to recommend an outright ban on combustible cladding.

RIBA director of practice Adrian Dobson welcomed the move but added: ‘We would like to see a ban of these materials on all buildings above 18m – not just residential.

‘In addition, whilst we are pleased to see that the government is going further than Dame Judith Hackitt’s recent review, we urge them to take action on all our recommendations.’

The changes proposed under the consultation would also remove the option for developers to use desktop studies – fire assessments undertaken without lab tests – regardless of recommendations made by the government’s consultation on the issue, which closed on 25 May.

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