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Remove combustible materials from balconies, government urges

Foisal uddin shutterstock barking de pass gardens sheppard robson fire june 2019
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The government has called for building owners to remove combustible materials from balconies on residential buildings, following a serious fire at a block of flats in Barking earlier this month

In an advice note issued yesterday (24 June), the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) called on building owners to strip combustible materials from balconies ‘as soon as is practicable’. 

The advice comes in the wake of a fire at a Sheppard Robson-designed block at Barking Riverside, which destroyed 20 flats and damaged a further 10. Videos taken by residents showed the timber-clad balconies bursting into flames. 

In its note, the MHCLG said: ‘The removal and replacement of any combustible material used in balcony construction is the clearest way to prevent external fire spread from balconies and therefore to meet the intention of building regulation requirements and this should occur as soon as practical.’

The advice note is likely to add to confusion over how official fire safety regulations – known as Approved Document B – apply to balconies. 

Using combustible materials on the cladding or balconies of buildings over 18m in height has been banned since the end of last year. 

In addition, before the ban was introduced, building regulations for blocks of all heights stated: ’The external walls of the building shall adequately resist the spread of fire over the walls and from one building to another, having regard to the height, use and location of the building.’

However, it is unclear from this note whether the government now believes these principles apply to balconies as well as to external walls, for buildings beneath 18m.

A BRE report from 2016 found that there was currently no specific guidance for balconies in Approved Document B, other than where balconies are designed as a ‘means of escape’.

Building regulations expert Geoff Wilkinson said the advice note suggests developers and architects now have to meet the requirement for external fire spread ’without giving any measure of how to prove it’.

’It [the advice] seems like a knee jerk reaction to the fact that they have had the BRE report and not updated the guidance in Approved Document B to reflect it.

’This is one of a number of research projects that Department for Communities and Local Government commissioned from BRE then sat on the results.’

It emerged recently that fire experts had warned that the wooden balconies at Barking Riverside were a ‘significant hazard’ months before the fire.

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