The government is coming under pressure from experts and residents of affected blocks to commit to funding the removal of dangerous non-aluminium cladding systems.
Last week housing secretary James Brokenshire announced £200m to remediate private sector blocks with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, taking the total committed for ACM removal to £600m.
But there remains no government money, and no formal process of identification, for other dangerous cladding systems – some two years on from the Grenfell Tower fire.
Sam Webb, an architect, safety campaigner and member of research group Tower Blocks UK, wrote in an article for Inside Housing: “ACM is just one of several cladding materials known to conduct the spread of flame. If the government are serious about avoiding another preventable tragedy like Grenfell, then it must immediately fund the removal of all forms of dangerous cladding.”
In particular, Mr Webb drew attention to high-pressure laminate (HPL) cladding – which was used to make the window panels that helped the deadly Lakanal House fire to spread in 2009.
Following this fire, the panels were tested by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and the Metropolitan Police. They burned through in just four-and-a-half minutes.
A previous test that combined HPL panels with Kingspan insulation in a rainscreen cladding system was tested by the BRE in 2014, at the request of Kingspan.
That 45-minute test – on which a report can be downloaded below – saw flames rip through the cladding system and the fire reach temperatures of 925°C.
Flames climbed three metres up the cladding in just five minutes, burning materials fell to the ground and the rainscreen panels began to collapse from 18 minutes.
However, the government still believes it is necessary to carry out further tests before deciding whether HPL is dangerous – something it first planned to do in September 2017.
John Biggs, mayor of Tower Hamlets, which has the highest number of dangerously clad buildings in the country, said: “Non-ACM tests commissioned by the government have been delayed for too long and this latest funding announcement doesn’t make any money available for the repairs that will no doubt be required once they are eventually carried out.”
In January, housing minister Kit Malthouse said the government would expect HPL-clad buildings to be remediated “if it’s equivalent to ACM cladding and proven to be the same”.
There is currently no government-led programme to remove HPL cladding from blocks, or to identify the blocks where it is installed.
Academics have warned “the next Grenfell-style disaster” would likely be in a HPL-clad block, due to the government’s exclusive focus on ACM.
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Residents in non-ACM clad blocks reacted with anger last week at the government’s decision to limit removal funding to ACM only.
There are understood to be at least seven blocks in Manchester with non-ACM cladding, including timber, where leaseholders are being asked to fund removal work.
Amy Du Quesne and James Oates, a couple living in Skyline Central 1 in Manchester, said: “This announcement changes nothing for us. We are still fearful for our safety and financial futures. Until the government recognises that people living with fire issues in non-ACM clad blocks are just as much at risk as the residents of Grenfell Tower, we will continue our fight to make our homes safe.”
Inside Housing’s End Our Cladding Scandal campaign calls on the government to fund the removal of dangerous cladding from all affected private and social housing towers.
A spokesperson for MHCLG said: “We issued updated non-ACM advice to building owners in December 2018 that reiterated the clearest way to ensure fire safety is to remove unsafe materials.
“Non ACM cladding systems or other structural works which are not directly related to the remediation of ACM cladding systems will not be part of the recent £200m fund.”