A pledge to publish previously secret results of fire tests on insulation and cladding has been changed, Sky News learns.
By Gerard Tubb, News Correspondent and Nick Stylianou, News Reporter
A Government commitment to fire safety testing transparency after the Grenfell Tower disaster has been watered down and less than 20% of the promised information released.
A pledge to publish previously secret results of fire tests on insulation and cladding used on tower blocks has been changed to exclude cladding systems that failed the safety test.
Combustible insulation and panels fitted to Grenfell Tower have been blamed for the rapid spread of the fire on 14 June that killed 80 people.
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) stated almost two months ago that testing and advisory firm BRE had been asked to “publish the results of previous large scale (fire) tests” on insulation and cladding to “help inform building owners’ decisions about whether remedial work is required”.
The Government pledge was made in response to criticism of the secrecy surrounding fire testing from fire safety experts and the chairman of the Local Government Association Lord Porter.
The Conservative peer said in a statement on 19 July that he was “concerned” that BRE “does not feel able to release the results of previous cladding system tests” on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.
Tower block owners across the country were in the process of removing combustible cladding after ministers declared the system fitted to Grenfell Tower was banned in the UK.
“If the public are going to have faith in this fire safety testing process then everything needs to be out in the open. It is no time for contractors or manufacturers to withhold test results from both councils and the public,” Lord Porter said.
But when the fire test data was released on 5 September, BRE said it was only revealing tests on cladding that passed fire safety hurdles.
In a further caveat it said test results would be withheld unless “permission to publish details… has been granted by the customer”.
After Sky News established that many successful tests were missing from that filtered list, BRE said it was “working through” more than 40 other successful test results and would publish them next week.
The firm said it was “checking with the customer and our accreditation body UKAS” before publishing more of the “40+” successful tests its customers have given permission for inclusion.
BRE has not responded to a series of questions including how many cladding systems failed the test and whether more than one fire test was carried out on any of the approved cladding systems in order for them to pass.
The tests concerned are for the British Standard (BS) 8414 which governs the response to fire of cladding systems including those containing components used on Grenfell Tower.
Since the tragedy, DCLG has paid BRE Global to fire test seven specific cladding systems, four of which failed, leaving 266 tower block owners with the task of urgently reassessing fire safety measures.
Independent fire safety consultant Steve McKenzie said he was “concerned” about BRE’s release of the data and questioned “the commitment of DCLG and BRE to transparency” in the aftermath of Grenfell.
The admission that more than 80% of the data has yet to be released was made after Sky News identified two firms whose test results were not published last week.
They discussed the issue on the understanding they would not be identified, saying they have pressed BRE Global to publish their results or explain why they were omitted, but have been unsuccessful.
One said: “(Our) tests should have been included. The company has been chasing up with BRE.”
BRE Global is the only testing facility in Europe certified to conduct the BS8414 test, which involves exposing a large construction of insulation and cladding to a fierce fire.
The cladding system is then deemed to have passed or failed a series of fire safety hurdles including how quickly the fire spreads and how quickly the material disintegrates.
Sky News has previously revealed concerns from a leading lawyer about the involvement of two senior BRE figures in a Government panel advising ministers on what needs to be done to make tall buildings safe following the Grenfell Tower fire.
Jolyon Maugham QC said Sir Ken Knight and Peter Bonfield are “tainted by association” through their links to advice given to ministers last year that building regulations were “adequate” to cope with combustible cladding on tower blocks.