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MPs push for combustible ban to extend to existing high-rises

Grenfell one year on
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MPs have called on the government to expand the scope of its new ban on combustible materials on high-rise buildings to cover all existing buildings and those currently under construction

The new government policy, brought in last month (November), applies to the external walls of all new buildings over 18m tall containing flats, as well as new-build hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools and student accommodation.

But the Housing Communities and Local Government Committee has written to housing secretary James Brokenshire to say the policy does ‘not go far enough’ and should also be applied retrospectively to all existing buildings.

In the letter, Labour MP and committee chair Clive Betts wrote: ‘It cannot be right that materials deemed too dangerous for new buildings should continue to be permitted for existing residences and other high-rise buildings’.

The document points out that while the government has identified 457 high rises with ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding, analysis by insulation manufacturer Rockwool shows the numbers are far higher.

The firm’s analysis has found there are 2,372 buildings that use rainscreen cladding systems, of which around 90 per cent have combustible insulation and a ‘large majority’ have combustible cladding.

It estimates there are at least 1,678 at-risk buildings likely to have combustible materials, including 964 universities and schools, 428 hospitals and nursing homes and 162 hotels. 

None of these buildings will be covered by the existing ban, which comes into effect on 21 December but only applies to new buildings.

In response to the letter, housing secretary James Brokenshire said: ’There is nothing more important than ensuring people are safe in their homes. That is why we have acted to ban combustible cladding and are progressing wide-ranging reforms on building safety.

’Unsafe cladding systems which do not comply with building regulations should be replaced and I expect leaseholders to be protected from the costs of such work. We have a systematic programme to see that the most high-risk ACM cladding is removed from high rise residential buildings.’

The MPs’ call comes as the first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry wrapped up yesterday (12 December) after almost 100 days of sitting.

On the penultimate day of hearings, lawyers representing survivors of the Grenfell urged the inquiry to make an early judgement on the ‘flagrantly non-compliant’ tower refurbishment

The G11 group – made up of survivors and families of the bereaved – has called on inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick to confirm in his interim report that the building was in breach of building regulations.

Meanwhile Rajiv Menon, the QC for the resident who lived in the flat where the fire started, said the building had been transformed into a ‘highly combustible, non-compliant death trap’.

Speaking at the inquiry, he said: ‘It is unthinkable, Mr Chairman, that you will conclude Grenfell Tower was anything other than non-compliant.’

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) also stressed the need to ‘obtain answers and justice as swiftly as possible’.

James Maxwell-Scott, the QC representing the council, added that the failure of the cladding system to comply with the Building Regulations was one of the ‘most important’ causes of the severity of the fire.

Moore-Bick’s interim report is expected in spring but it was announced that the second phase of the inquiry is now not expected to start until 2020. 

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