After the recent announcement of an extra £3.5 billion in funding for cladding remediation on tall buildings there has been an understandable outcry from those who are affected by what’s been called the cladding scandal. Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, announced the money would be available only to cover removal and replacement of cladding on blocks or flats over 18m in height.
For buildings below this height where cladding is found to be unsuitable, leaseholders will only be offered loans, with a maximum repayment of £50 each month. Needless to say, this has caused an outcry from many bodies and the affected leaseholders. Firstly, because they have to pay in the end and secondly, they may not be able to sell flats where there is still some liability from an outstanding debt to remediate cladding issues.
However, these are not the only concerns: there are a number of questions regarding the scope of the new money. Is it just to remediate cladding? Or does it cover other identified failures, including problems with fire doors and other compartmentation measures such as firestopping that have been well documented in existing blocks of flats? These issues influenced the tragic outcome in both the Grenfell fire and the Lakanal House fire of 2009, where six people perished.
The argument about whether certain types of cladding could or could not be installed following the Grenfell fire have been rumbling on for three and a half years since the Grenfell fire. It is one of the single most important points that will be determined in the public inquiry on the Grenfell fire.
The government states that only non-combustible or materials of limited combustibility can be used in external walls of buildings over 18m in height. However, many argue that the guidance in Approved Document B was not that clear and the lower classification of Class 0 (diagram 40) was enough.
How else can it be explained that, in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire in 2017, when BRE conducted over 750 screening tests on samples of cladding sent in, the overwhelming majority failed to meet the limited combustibility standard? Surely, if the guidance was clear that the higher performance was required, a much higher proportion would have met the requirement. The results of the tests indicate that, while the government thinks only limited combustibility cladding is allowed, the majority of the construction industry thinks otherwise.
The arguments rage on in the pages of Linked-In. If the public inquiry rules that the guidance was not clear, then it will be incumbent upon the government to pay for all the cladding remediation in all blocks, private or publicly owned. If the public inquiry rules that the guidance was clear, then legal action will probably be necessary from leaseholders to ensure that the remediation is paid for by developers or freeholders.
However, whilst there is some degree of discussion or argument over whether the statutory guidance regarding cladding is clear or not, there is no such argument about the requirements of compartmentation that are included in Approved Document B and the national equivalents in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In the case of Approved Document B, it is clear that where cavities exist in buildings and when services such
as ducts, pipes and cables pass through fire-resisting construction, they must be sealed afterwards. Guidance is given on the methods of sealing or ‘firestopping’.
Yet there appears to be no new money to cover this, which means under the requirements of the Building Safety Bill that the burden will fall on leaseholders under the so-called ‘building safety charge’. Why are these defects being treated differently from cladding? In both cases they are not the fault of the leaseholders or building owners concerned. The ASFP believes that money should be made available to cover all defects and not just cladding. Of course, aggrieved parties could sue the developers, but this will be difficult, time consuming and expensive.
Under the proposals outlined in the Building Safety Bill, these issues should not arise in future. Among the proposals are a new regulator (HSE), running a stricter regime for buildings ‘in scope’ (tall residential buildings in the main). There will be three duty holders (Principal Designer, Principal Contractor and Building Safety Manager) with defined roles and responsibilities, and three Gateway stages, including the production of full plans before construction. This will remove design and build contracts which leave detailed fire-protection design until too late. It will introduce a ‘Golden Thread’ of information that passes along the chain so detailing all the fire measures included in the building so that they can be managed appropriately. Currently, much of this information is lost or not documented adequately.
Alongside the Building Safety Bill is the development of a competence framework for all players in the construction process from the architect and developer, from design, construction and installation through to managing the completed building. Competence is being determined in terms of Skills, Knowledge, Experience and Behaviour (SKEB), not just, for example, attendance on a course or membership of a professional body.
The ASFP is working within the Competence steering groups addressing this subject and has recently lifted its membership requirements for members to obtain the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) Certificate in Passive Fire Protection Level 2 or 3 as appropriate within three years. These are the only Ofqual-recognised qualifications in passive fire protection.
The ASFP believes that while these measures go a long way to solving the issues, greater use of third-party certification is required for both products and for those installing passive fire protection. It is a membership requirement for ASFP contracting members to be third-party certificated and we are working to see the uptake of this increased certification throughout the industry. We also believe that a better regime of inspection of both completed works and works in progress is vital to ensure that essential, but often unseen when completed, passive fire protection measures are installed correctly.
For more information, go to www.asfp.org.uk