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Report: UK Has No Counts on Dangerous Cladding

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

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A recent investigation by the United Kingdom’s National Audit Office has revealed that the government doesn’t know how many of its estimated 85,000 buildings 11-18 meters tall are clad with the same ACM material that was used on Grenfell Tower.

The NAO says that remediation of the buildings could last until 2022 at least.

Grenfell Background

During the early hours of June 14, 2017, a fire broke out in one of west London’s high-rises, the Grenfell Tower. The 24-story, 120-home apartment building had recently undergone a $12.73 million renovation that was completed in the spring of 2016.

At that time, the building was refurbished with a system of polyester powder-coated aluminum rain-screen panels, insulated exterior cladding and double-glazed windows, as well as a communal heating system.

ChiralJon, CC-SA-BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A recent investigation by the United Kingdom’s National Audit Office has revealed that the government doesn’t know how many of its estimated 85,000 buildings 11-18 meters tall are clad with the same ACM material that was used on Grenfell Tower.

In April of 2018, new investigations revealed that the cladding fitted on the Grenfell Tower had been downgraded before it was installed on the London high-rise. According to tests that BBC News uncovered from 2014 and 2015, a zinc cladding had originally been specified for the tower, but another brand was substituted for a savings of roughly $388,700.

The following month, former Prime Minister Theresa May pledged $517.9 million to cover the replacement of unsafe cladding for social housing blocks. Privately owned towers were left to figure out the replacements on their own, however.

As a result, many property owners passed the renovation charges to residents, which in some cases cost them thousands of dollars to make their homes safe again. Many more still have yet to even begin the renovation process.

Cladding Ban

In December 2018, the U.K. announced a ban on combustible materials. Former housing secretary James Brokenshire announced that under the new legislation, combustible materials would not be permitted in the exterior walls for new buildings more than 18 meters (59 feet) tall. Those buildings include homes, hospitals, residential care facilities, dormitories and other student accommodations.

That ban limits the use of materials to products that achieve a European fire-resistance rating of Class A1 or A2. The legislation also cleared up what exactly the government meant by an “exterior wall,” defining it as an external wall as anything “located within any space forming part of the wall.” It also includes any decoration or finishes applied to external surfaces, windows or doors; roof pitches at an angle of more than 70 degrees; balconies and devices for deflecting sunlight and solar panels.

The policy also prohibits the use of timber materials in the external wall of buildings in those parameters as well, which will stop many project in their tracks, according to the Architects’ Journal, referring to developers using the cross-laminated timber construction method.

The materials ban took effect Dec. 21, 2018, but in December 2019 part of the ban was overhauled following a lawsuit by the British Blind & Shutter Association. (The court rules that the ban should not have included materials used on shutters, blinds and other products designed to reduce a building’s heat gain.)

In May 2019, the U.K.’s Ministry of Housing announced that it would foot the bill to replace the cladding on private residential high-rise blocks at the cost of roughly 200 million pounds ($258.9 million).

At the beginning of this year, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick put forth new measures with the goal to move “faster and further to improve building safety” adding: “The slow pace of improving building safety standards will not be tolerated.”

Jenrick put forth several things for consultation on Monday (Jan. 20) including:

  • Extend the cladding ban from buildings 18 meters tall to 11 meters;
  • Extend the mandate of sprinklers in buildings from 30 meters to 11 meters;
  • A new regulator for building safety will start operating in shadow form under the Health and Safety Executive;
  • The U.K.’s first national chief inspector of buildings will be recruited shortly; and
  • Begin releasing the names of high-rise owners who have not begun remediation work.

The proposal was met with praise from industry members, such as the Royal Institute of British Architects.

What Now

The NAO report, issued on June 19, says that as of April there were still 307 towers that still have unsafe ACM cladding systems, with work not even having begun on 167 of them and work complete on 149.

The office also noted that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has advised that the ACM cladding in question is unsafe on buildings of any height, which illuminated gaps in the department’s knowledge as it has admitted that it has no data on the number of buildings under 18 meters that have those cladding systems.

This summer, NAO will begin collecting that data on approximately 85,000 buildings.

The report also notes that about 14% of private buildings have been remediated, adding that the government has paid out only about 0.7% of its promised funds for privately owned buildings.

This is compared to the 33% it has paid out of its social housing cladding remediation fund.


Tagged categories: Building envelope; Cladding; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Fire; Government; Health and safety; Maintenance + Renovation; Regulations; Safety

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