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Government was warned in 2014 that Grenfell-type cladding was dangerous

Grenfell one year on
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The government was warned four years ago about the risks of Grenfell-style cladding but did not act, it has emerged

Minutes from a meeting of the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology’s fire group in July 2014 show that civil servants responsible for health and safety were alerted of the risk to high-rise buildings from aluminium and polyethylene cladding.

This type of cladding, known as ACM, was fitted to Grenfell during refurbishment works on the tower completed in 2016.

The minutes, released under FOI to Inside Housing, show that Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) officials were warned that the government’s building regulation guidance was ’not clear’ in banning its use.

They were told: ’There have been major fires in buildings in various parts of the world where ACM materials have been used for the cladding with the ACM responsible for the external fire spread.

’It was stated that [official guidance] is intended to prohibit the use of polyethylene-cored ACM in buildings over 18m … This is not clear from the wording of the current clause.’

The minutes also reveal that the Building Research Establishment (BRE) agreed to draft a clarification to clearly outlaw the material – but this was not done.

Since the Grenfell Tower fire, there has been a debate over whether the government’s official fire guidance – Approved Document B – required cladding panels to be of ‘limited combustibility’.

The government insists it does, but industry figures disagree, saying the standard the guidance set was ‘Class 0’ or ‘Euroclass B’.

According to the meeting minutes, the civil servant said that they believed that Approved Document B banned the use of flammable ACM through a clause stipulating that insulation materials or products should be of limited combustibility.

However, this argument was rejected by industry delegates, who said that, while ACM cladding was used to keep insulation dry, it had no insulation function itself.

An MHCLG spokesperson told Inside Housing: ’As we have said repeatedly, our view is that the limited combustibility requirements in the guidance cover the core filler of a cladding panel.

’We are consulting on a ban on the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings.’

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • I wonder who else (apart presumably from the 'civil servant') within government received copies of these minutes, and whether they actually read them?
    And why, if the BRE agreed to draft a clarification to clearly outlaw the material, was this not done?
    This information has apparently only surfaced as the result of an FOI request by a specialist trade journal, so the question has to be asked whether a natural aversion to starting a witch-hunt might get in the way of an unbiased and thorough investigation of the facts?

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  • In January 2015, Dr Barbara Lane and Dr Charlotte Roben of ARUP, in an article in the AJ pointed out the importance of integrating fire engineering design into building envelopes. This also illustrates one of the fundemental problems with building regulations, which then refer to approved documents, which then in turn refer to British and European standards (which are so expensive many architects can not afford them) and are difficult to understand. Successive governments have believed that all they needed to do was create a pdf document with columns in portrait format to be read on a landscape orientated monitor. If we want to build to a higher standard, then the information should be available and easy to understand. The confusion over whether a type of cladding is combustible or non-combustible should not clear.

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