The RIBA has escalated its calls to the government over fire safety in the Building Regulations, demanding a ’comprehensive, transparent and fundamental’ overhaul
Last month the institute urged the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to immediately begin its much-delayed review of Approved Document B following the Grenfell Tower tragedy – a review the communities secretary had promised four years ago in response the 2009 fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell.
Now the RIBA has said the current DCLG testing programme, which has seen the cladding on 190 high-rise buildings fail fire safety tests, has demonstrated ‘more than ever an urgent need to investigate the efficacy and usability of the current version of Approved Document B and related standards’.
In an update to its previous Statement on Design for Fire Safety issued in June, the institute said: ‘The RIBA believes that the review of Approved Document B must be a comprehensive, transparent and fundamental reappraisal, rather than amendment or clarification, and should begin without delay to remove uncertainty, provide clarity and protect public safety.
Experts have widely condemned the existing fire-safety regulations, claiming they are confusing, too open to interpretation, and at times contradictory (see News feature: why the Building Regs are failing on fire safety).
Meanwhile the independent expert fire safety panel, which was set up last week without any representation from the architectural profession, has called for changes on the way suspect cladding already installed on tower blocks is tested.
A statement released by the DCLG said: ‘[These] tests – which will look at three different types of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding combined with different types of insulation – will be in accordance with British Standard 8414 in line with the panel’s advice.
’This involves building a 9m-tall demonstration wall with a complete cladding system – including panels and insulation – fixed to it, and then subjecting it to a fire that replicates a severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window and whether it then spread up the outside wall.’
The DCLG said the government had now commissioned the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to carry out these tests as a ‘matter of urgency’.
The panel said that six combinations of cladding systems should be subjected to the BS8414 test procedure and that the ‘detailed design of each of the six will be reviewed by the panel to ensure that it is representative of the systems that are in common use including the way it is fixed.’
The six systems will incorporate each of the three common types of aluminium composite material panels, with core filler materials of unmodified polyethylene, fire-retardant polyethylene, and non-combustible mineral. The two insulation materials used in the testing will be rigid polyisocyanurate foam or non-combustible mineral wool.
RIBA’s concerns over building regulations and procurement in the UK
- Delays to the review of Approved Document B, particularly with regard to the relationship of the Building Regulations to changing approaches in the design and construction of the external envelopes of buildings.
- An Approved Document, which together with related British Standards, provides a very comprehensive but highly complicated regulatory framework.
- The impact of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, in particular the introduction of a regime of fire risk self-assessment and the repeal of fire certificate legislation with oversight by the local fire authority.
- Developments in building procurement approaches which mean that the lead designer (architect or engineer) is no longer responsible for oversight of the design and the specification of materials and products from inception to completion of the project, with design responsibility often transferred to the contractor and sub-contractors, and no single point of responsibility.
- The virtual disappearance of the role of the clerk of works or site architect and the loss of independent oversight of construction and workmanship on behalf of the client.