Tuesday 22 August 2017

Combustible cladding now found on 11 high-rise buildings in the UK

The burnt out remains of the Grenfell Tower are seen in North Kensington, London, Britain June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
The burnt out remains of the Grenfell Tower are seen in North Kensington, London, Britain June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Arj Singh

The number of high-rise blocks of flats found to have combustible cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower has risen to 11, Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid has said.

In a letter to MPs, Mr Javid said the blocks are in eight local authority areas in England.

The Government believes that around 600 high-rise buildings in England have some form of cladding.

Landlords, typically local authorities and housing associations, have been asked to check if they used similar aluminium composite materiel (ACM) panels to Grenfell Tower, where 79 people have been confirmed dead or listed as missing presumed dead after a devastating fire last week.

Mr Javid said Camden, Manchester and Plymouth were three areas where buildings had failed the test but stressed he could not reveal more because local residents in the others have not yet been informed, despite landlords being alerted to results.

Just because a building fails the Government test to determine whether it has combustible cladding does not mean it is unsafe, with that to be determined after more checks by the fire and rescue services, Theresa May's deputy spokesman said earlier.

Mr Javid urged landlords to send samples to the Government's testing facility, which can handle around 100 samples per day, with extra capacity available if necessary, as a "matter of urgency".

In his letter to MPs, the Communities Secretary went on: "I also want to reassure colleagues that you will be made aware if any sites are in your constituency by the local authority in the first instance - my department stands ready to assist colleagues if further information is required.

"To ensure that local authorities and housing associations know how to respond where tests do show action is needed, my department has today written to every one of them to ensure they know what immediate steps they should take if the testing shows cladding material is unlikely to be compliant with current Building Regulations, and I attach a copy of this for your information.

"We should be clear that landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe buildings. Where they cannot do that, we expect alternative accommodation to be provided. My department stands ready to work with local authorities to ensure they can meet their obligations to provide safety for their tenants. We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes."

In an emotional conclusion, Mr Javid said the Grenfell Tower disaster has "shaken" his understanding of his job in the Cabinet.

"As a minister I have always been prepared to make tough decisions. I understood the pressures that come with public life but this disaster has shaken my comprehension of what it means to be in office. I have met some of the victims of Grenfell, I have witnessed for myself the grief and anger of those who have lost so much - more than just their possessions but also their loved ones, their security and their memories.

This government will do everything possible not just to replace houses and provide immediate relief, but to seek justice for those people who have been failed. This tragedy should weigh on the consciousness of every person tasked with making a decision so this can never happen again.

Mrs May's deputy spokeswoman was earlier unable to say whether having combustible cladding on high-rise towers was illegal in every case or not, saying it was "an issue of compliance" dependent on the individual circumstances of each building, such as height or environmental factors.

Among the buildings so far confirmed by the Government to have flammable facades are the Chalcots Estate in north London, which is removing the cladding, and the Mount Wise Tower in Plymouth.

Both buildings were said to be enforcing more stringent fire-prevention measures as a response, including 24/7 observations of the building by safety teams.

Camden Council said the Chalcots Estate was facing renovation after tests found "the panels that were fitted were not to the standard that we had commissioned".

The company in charge of fitting the cladding to the affected Camden towers oversaw the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, in west London, according to its website.

Rydon carried out the refit of the high-rises between May 2006 and October 2009.

Plymouth Community Homes said of Mount Wise Tower, the at-risk high-rise: "It has been found to be aluminium coated with a polyethylene core, which has been rated as category 3 under the new controlled test conditions.

"The fire rating scale goes from 0 to 3 (with 0 being the highest safety score and 3 being the lowest)."

The Newlon Housing Trust confirmed that Rivers Apartments, in Tottenham, north London, is clad with Reynobond PE, reportedly the same material used at Grenfell Tower.

But it said that after an "extensive safety audit" the London Fire Brigade confirmed the tower block would be considered a "low fire risk" after modifications and technical clarifications.

The building is fitted with a sprinkler system, a wet riser, a firefighters' lift and smoke evacuation valves, the trust said.

It added: "With regard to the status of the cladding at the end of last week, we asked the leading independent experts, the Building Research Establishment (BRE), to review its design and specification and we are waiting for their technical recommendations. This will determine whether or not the cladding should be removed and replaced, and if so what the appropriate replacement should be.

"If we receive further instructions from the fire brigade or any other statutory authority, we will of course comply with them."

Responses from Scottish local authorities and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive suggest the type of cladding used in Grenfell Tower has not been used on their high-rise blocks.

The Department for Communities and Local Government would not reveal how many samples have been tested in total, saying the priority was to give updates on failed tests and for councils to inform their residents.

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