The government’s expert panel on fire safety has demanded that more than 100 more tower blocks in England must be urgently stripped of combustible cladding panels in response to the Grenfell Tower disaster.
On 14th June 2017, a fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block in North Kensington, causing the deaths of 72 people and injuring 70 others. The cause was put down to a malfunctioning fridge-freezer on the fourth floor, but the rapid spread and deadliness of the fire was attributed to the building’s cladding, which was found to be an unsafe, cheap alternative that was used to save money.
Since the fire, there has been widespread outrage and calls for similar Grenfell-style cladding to be removed from other tower blocks across the country. Reports have circulated of tower block residents suffering from depression and anxiety as a result of living in unsafe buildings, with some claims that residents have even started their own night patrol shifts for their own protection.
Calls for Action
While the attention has mostly been focused on cladding similar to the aluminium composite material (ACM) that helped spread the fire in Grenfell, high-pressure laminate (HPL) panels have also been recently tested. The housing order states that HPL panels – which are used to produce colourful patterns on new buildings – should be removed “as soon as possible” from housing taller than 18 metres. The announcement is expected to incite new arguments surrounding exactly who should be picking up the bill – with no sign of the government planning a bailout.
The National Fire Chiefs Council said that tests had shown that HPL panels were “unlikely to adequately resist the spread of fire” and called on building owners with these systems to take immediate action. Those below of class B in fire resistance should not be used, while class B if used with combustible insulation, should be removed.
The government is being called on to require building owners to check for this kind of cladding, as they did with ACM, so the scale of the problem can be understood.
Progress So Far
There have been calls for a while now for the government to step up and replace the unsafe cladding in all tower blocks, but the actual implementation of such an overhaul has been slow. Analysis suggests that thousands of people will be living in potentially dangerous tower blocks until May 2030 due to the pace at which the highly flammable materials are being removed – with an average of just 4.75 residential blocks a month having the material removed, out of a total of 334 blocks that were found to contain it. This would put the completion date to be almost a decade after the government’s deadline of June 2020.
The government have always insisted it was the obligation of building owners to ensure homes met building regulations and that the materials used had undergone sufficient fire testing. The government has threatened that building owners will “face consequences” if they do not use the £200 million fund to remove dangerous Grenfell-style cladding from their buildings and that they will be named and shamed for not doing so. A reported 176 privately-owned residential buildings were found to have the aluminium composite cladding, leaving an estimated 20,000 people unsure of when their homes would be made safe.
The new order for HPL to be removed as well is likely to fuel the fear of fire safety problems in UK tower blocks. As it stands, some tower block residents have found themselves footed with the bill for the replacement of the perilous cladding in their own homes as private building owners refuse to pay. This is due to leaseholders claiming that the £200 million government fund does not go far enough to cover the costs for all the buildings that need their dangerous cladding removed.
Grenfell United, a campaign group set up after the fire, says that the government needs to do more to protect people in social housing. So far, no arrests have been made for manslaughter or negligence following the fire two years ago, and the inquiry looks to continue into 2020.