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UK Housing Fire Raises Cladding Concerns

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

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After a fire consumed a Bolton, United Kingdom, student housing block on Nov. 15, locals have accused the government of downplaying fire risks posed by unsafe cladding.

The incident has also raised concerns over the “cladding lottery” still faced by housing-block residents across the country, which has remained a source of concern since the Grenfell tragedy.

What Happened

On the night of Nov. 15, a six-story student housing block, referred to as “The Cube,” caught fire around 8:30 p.m. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham recounted that the fire moved quickly, and that roughly 20 minutes after the blaze broke out on the fourth floor, the fire had already spread to the top.

One witness reported that the fire was “crawling up the cladding like it was nothing.”

According to The Cube’s planning records, the building was converted from offices into student housing in 2015 by RADM Architects. However, the fire brigade confirmed that the cladding used for the project was not the same as the aluminum composite cladding (ACM) used on Grenfell Tower.

In 2018, the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service requested a fire risk assessment for The Cube and reviewed the materials used in the external wall system. The assessment was shared, and the GMFRS reported that “‘subsequent work was undertaken to both buildings by the building owners.”

Currently, The Cube is managed by Urban Student Life. The entity issued a statement claiming that it was “not responsible for the construction of or subsequent amendments to the construction of the Cube buildings.”

At the peak of the Bolton incident, the BBC reported that roughly 200 firefighters from 40 fire engines were on the scene and tackling the fire that had affected every floor. Roughly 200 students were evacuated from the building, with one student rescued using an aerial platform, and two others were treated for injuries by paramedics on the scene.

By 5:30 a.m., six fire engines remained still trying to put out the final pockets of fire.

Although an investigation of the incident has since been launched, The Guardian reports that officials were previously dismissing pleas, some of which were as recent as a fortnight before the incident, for the removal of high-pressure laminate panels used on the exterior facade of The Cube.

“We feel extremely let down by the government continuing to ignore our pleas to take the dangers of other materials such as HPL seriously,” said Fran Reddington, a tower block resident in Manchester who recently wrote to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

“The recent horrific fire at Bolton with HPL cladding clearly demonstrates that this cladding is as dangerous as ACM and we urge government to reassess, retest and provide much-needed funding to leaseholders in these blocks. We are relying on sheer luck. You shouldn’t have to rely on luck when your life is at stake.”

However, Manchester Evening News reports that regarding the government’s ban on combustibles, only the front of the Cube is classified as a high-rise, while the second block (where the fire started) is under 18 meters (59 feet) high.

What’s Happening Now

While an investigation has been launched to discover what caused the fire at The Cube, investigators also plan to look at how the building’s fake wood balconies and its proximity to decking and wooden stairs contributed to the blaze.

Additionally, the government is still working to complete final testing of the HPL cladding in order to fully understand the fire risks it poses. The Guardian indicated that a report on how many residents are at risk from the material won't be released until March 2020.

Since the incident, more then 10,000 pounds (roughly $13,000) has been raised through crowdfunding to help re-house the affected students.

While various buildings have been reported to receive replacement cladding, reports indicate that there are still 79 buildings in the area that fail to meet adequate standards of fire safety. At least 30 of those found inadequate are also reported to still be covered in aluminum composite material cladding.

“Building owners must ensure their tenants can live safely in their homes and this means all cladding systems, including HPL, that do not conform to our strict building safety standards must be removed,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

“We made clear that we agree with the Hackitt review and have committed to implementing its recommendations in a new building safety bill.”

   

Tagged categories: Aluminum; Building facades; Building materials; Cladding; EU; Europe; Fire; Good Technical Practice; hazardous materials; Health and safety; Metal cladding; PaintSquare App - Commercial; Risk management; Safety

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