In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, everyone agreed that urgent action was needed to make sure that such a tragedy could never happen again. The role played by combustible materials in spreading the fire up the building has been well documented. In response, the Government ordered an investigation into high-rise residential buildings with the same ACM cladding type as Grenfell and found some 457 towers that were affected. Yet this screening programme did not include non-ACM combustible materials, and did not cover high-risk buildings under 18m in height, such as hospitals, schools and care homes.
Similarly, the Government announced this October that combustible materials would be banned on all future new-build and refurbishment projects for high-rise hospitals, care homes, residential buildings and schools. It did not include existing high-rise buildings, or hospitals, schools, care homes, hotels or sheltered housing below 18 metres.
As Dame Judith Hackitt’s review into building regulations pointed out, there is no complete data on the materials that have actually been used on our buildings. It’s incumbent on us within industry to share what information we can to support public safety.
That is why today, ROCKWOOL is publishing its analysis of buildings in England, showing that there are hundreds of high-rise and high-risk buildings with combustible materials which have not yet been identified. We have used publicly-available construction data – provided by industry source Glenigan – to identify how many high-rise and high risk buildings have been built with rainscreen façade systems (the cladding method used at Grenfell) since 2013. We have overlaid this with the market share data of combustible materials to ascertain how many of these buildings will contain combustible elements. We have also investigated specific projects to demonstrate that there are buildings in use today that have not been identified by the government as at risk.
We found that there are at least 340 high-rise (over 18 metres) residential towers in the UK that use combustible materials but have not been identified by the Government. Given that the proposed ban only relates to new buildings, there would be no requirement for these to be re-clad.
We also estimate that there are 1,338 high-risk buildings, such as schools, hospitals, and care homes that have combustible materials on their façades. High-risk buildings often house vulnerable people such as the sick, young, or elderly and therefore can take additional time to evacuate and need robust fire safety regulation to protect them. These too would not be required to undertake remedial works by the proposed ban.
We know of specific buildings right now that are clad in combustible materials. For example, a University of Essex high-rise student accommodation block with 500 rooms uses high pressure laminate cladding and combustible insulation. The Royal Derby Hospital has the same combination of combustible cladding and insulation.
We urge the government to conduct an audit of all high-rise and high-risk buildings to understand what is being used on their external walls and how safe those materials are. We have provided the government with the data and analysis we have gathered, and encourage others to share any information they might have to also help them understand extent of the problem.
We are seventeen months on from the Grenfell Tower disaster. People have a right to be safe, and to know what’s on their buildings. That is why we support a full, government-led audit of these buildings so we know exactly what they use, and an immediate ban on combustible materials on all high-rise and high-risk buildings.