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It’s official: combustible materials to be banned on new high-rise buildings

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Combustible materials will be banned from the exterior of new residential tower blocks above 18m as well as schools, care homes and hospitals, the government has announced

The ban, the result of a consultation following last year’s Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, is to be formally announced today (1 October) by Housing Secretary James Brokenshire at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.

The move comes 15 months after Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 72 lives, where flammable cladding was blamed for the rapid spread of the blaze.

The policy will cover cladding panels and insulation and will apply to all new buildings and those currently under construction.

However, it will not be applied retrospectively to buildings where the materials have already been fitted.

Currently, building regulations in the UK state all insulation and filler materials for cladding on high-rise buildings must be of ‘limited combustibility’.

It is understood that the only materials that will now be allowed are those classed as A1 or A2 under the European Reaction to Fire classification system, which includes materials such as metal, stone and glass which rarely contribute to fires, or plasterboard, which makes no significant contribution.

The measure – which was lobbied for by campaigners and the RIBA – will usher in a regulatory change that will signal a major upheaval in the building industry.

In his keynote address to the conference, Brokenshire will say: ’It has been over a year since the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire.

’This unimaginable horror has rightly shocked us all and underlined the need to do all that we can to see that such a disaster cannot happen again.

’My work with Grenfell United and the wider community has been hugely helpful in keeping this issue right at the top of the government’s agenda.

’And that is why today I can confirm that I will change the building regulations to ban the use of combustible cladding for all high-rise residential buildings, hospitals, care homes and student accommodation and bring about a change in culture on building safety.’

Independent fire safety expert Stephen Mackenzie welcomed the ban, which he said would put the industry in a position to comply with the ‘intent of the Building Regulations’ to limit external fire spread in high-dependency buildings. 

Mackenzie added that concerns remain within the sector over the safety of residents in buildings with cladding materials that have failed combustibility tests.  

He added: ’The ban must also address the issues with expanded polystyrene rendering or high-pressure laminate cladding systems, ensure that only stonewool insulation may be used, and address the issues of construction quality, cavity barriers, fire stopping, combustible balconies, laminated glass and UPVC window units or finishing.

’The fire hazards of ACM [cladding] or foam insulation below 18m and in other occupancies must also be reviewed, with limits or prohibitions put in place to ensure fire risk is treated at source.’

Grenfell United, a group representing survivors and relatives of the victims, described the ban as the ‘first signal we are being heard’.

In a statement, the group said: ‘We can never bring our loved ones back, but we’ve fought for a legacy of safer homes.

’Announcing a ban on combustible materials will ensure a fire like Grenfell can never happen again. We welcome the news and look forward to publication of further detail.’ 

In England, 468 already-built high-rise blocks have been identified as using ACM (aluminium composite material) – the type of cladding used on Grenfell.

What does A1 and A2 rating mean?

The government’s official guidance to rules on fire safety - Approved Document B - defines products achieving an A1 classification as non-combustible and products achieving an A2 classification as being of limited combustibility. A-class products – those classified A1 and A2 – make no significant contribution to fire growth while products with a rating of B-F are are classified as combustible.

The European Classification system for combustibility classifies construction products using a series of tests. Class A materials have the best performance in a fire and is divided into two sub-classes, Class A1 and Class A2.

Class A1 - Products are described as having no contribution to fire at any stage. The BS EN 13501 test sets several thresholds for combustion performance when tested to both EN ISO 1716 and EN ISO 1182. One of these thresholds is a maximum heat of combustion of 2MJ/kg. Typical products meeting this classification include most inorganic materials such as metal, stone, and glass.

Class A2, s3, d2 – Products are described as having no significant contribution to fire at any stage. BS EN 13501 sets several thresholds for combustion when tested to EN ISO 1182, or both EN ISO 1716 and EN 13823. One of these thresholds is a maximum heat of combustion of 3MJ/kg. A typical product meeting this classification is plasterboard.

An A2 certified product has a higher combustibility and can sustain flame for no more than 20 seconds. In contrast, A1 has a lower combustibility and no sustained flaming when tested.

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