The Government was told last year by its own fire investigators that tower blocks were covered in flammable material – but were also told building regulations were “adequate”. The advice was given by the same fire risk experts who are currently testing the cladding on 600 tower blocks – and so far failing every one of them .
By Gerard Tubb, Sky News Correspondent and Nick Stylianou, Sky News Reporter
The Government was told last year by its own fire investigators that tower blocks were covered in flammable material – but were also told building regulations were “adequate”.
The advice was given by the same fire risk experts who are currently testing the cladding on 600 tower blocks – and so far failing every one of them.
The reports were sent to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in April 2016 by BRE Global, formerly the Government’s Building Research Establishment, which went on to reassure ministers that building controls, which BRE has influenced since 1948, were “adequate”.
The documents seen by Sky News show that in last year’s study of tower block fire safety it concluded: “With the exception of one or two unfortunate cases, there is currently no evidence from BRE Global’s fire investigations for DCLG to suggest that current building regulation recommendations, to limit vertical fire spread up the exterior of high rise buildings, are failing in their purpose.”
The documents go on to warn of “an increase in the volume of potential combustible materials being applied. A number of significant fires… have demonstrated the potential risks”.
BRE is now being paid to test cladding being removed from high rise buildings across the country in response to the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 79 people are thought to have died after fire spread rapidly up cladding containing combustible insulation and plastic panels.
BRE has been paid by DCLG since at least 2007 to “investigate issues that may have implications for building regulations”.
Last week, DCLG said councils and housing associations must “immediately” take action if they have tower blocks with flammable polyethelyne (PE) panelling like that used on Grenfell Tower, which is “unlikely to be compliant with the requirements of the current Building Regulations”.
Seventy-five tower blocks have since been identified with unsafe cladding and panelling is being removed from buildings across the country. One, Park Heights in Stockwell, was built last year and won a prestigious design award from The Royal Institute of British Architects.
Sam Webb, a fire safety expert and retired architect who sits on the all-party Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue Group, told Sky News the use of flammable materials on tower blocks is “the biggest failure in the construction industry in British history”.
Combustible cladding and insulation were specifically named in planning applications for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment which were approved by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The design was later changed and an even more dangerous cladding was fitted.
Both the insulation – Celotex RS5000 – and the panels – Reynobond PE – have now been removed from worldwide sale by their respective manufacturers.