Our Response to Recent Government Consultation Papers & Reviews
As you will no doubt be aware since the tragic events at Grenfell, guidance has continued to allow the use of combustible materials in buildings when the proposed system has successfully passed the appropriate BS 8414 test, where a satisfactory desktop study can be provided or where a holistic fire engineered approach has been applied.
Post Grenfell it has been clear that changes to the Regulations and Approved Documents will soon be delivered but currently, whilst information is being gathered at a pace, it remains the case that no changes have been made to date. However, the release of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MHCLG) consultation document on Banning the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, June 2018 and the latest recommendations of the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee’s Independent Review, Ninth Report, 16 July 2018: provide strong indications as to the direction in which the Regulations and Approved Documents may change.
We believe that it is fair to say that the wording of the MHCLG consultation paper on banning the use of combustible materials in external walls strongly indicates that this will happen (in some form), and that it will potentially apply to all elements of the external wall (from internal finishes through to external finishes) unless there are technical reasons why it should not.
The paper asks (amongst other items):
- Should the ban apply to buildings over 18.0m? – suggesting that there is the possibility that this transition height may change.
- Whether the ban should be extended to include non-residential buildings?
- Which items of an external wall, if any, should be exempt? E.g. where there is no practical alternative to using materials that are not of limited combustibility or better, and where the risk of external fire spread caused by the use of combustible materials would be so minimal that it would be disproportionate to ban their use.
- Should the ban apply to notified buildings?
- Should the ban be extended to include existing buildings?
The HCLGC Committee’s Independent Review, Ninth Report, in respect of high-rise buildings, as well as agreeing that “The Government was right to signal its intention to ban the use of materials which are not of limited combustibility in the cladding…”” it recommends (amongst other items):
- “…. the ban should apply not only to new high-rise residential buildings, but also to existing buildings and those currently under construction.”
- “The ban should also apply to non-residential buildings where there is a particular and significant risk to life, such as residential homes, hospitals, student accommodation and hotels.”
- “….these systems should additionally be subject to full-scale fire tests to ensure their safety.”
- “Where structurally feasible, sprinklers should be retro-fitted to existing high-rise residential buildings ….”
- “The Government should work with fire safety experts and the industry to agree a new testing regime [to replace BS 8414] that has much wider industry support and can be fully trusted.”
- “The Government should publish clear guidance outlining the specific circumstances in which desktop studies may be permitted to be used.” - providing that materials which are not of limited combustibility will be banned from the cladding of high-rise buildings.
Please note, both documents have necessarily been heavily summarised by us and we strongly suggest that both of these documents are read in full.
At this point we need to be mindful that the above lists are currently questions and recommendations, and are not changes to Regulations, Approved Documents or guidance.
We advise that all options within our cladding memorandum remain in accordance with current government guidance for England and Wales, and it provides some additional requirements, clarifications and guidance for external wall fire strategy submissions that are provided to support Building Control Alliance technical guidance note 18 options. However, should any of the elements of the MHCLG consultation document on Banning the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings or any of the latest recommendations of the HCLG Committee’s Independent Review be endorsed (and it is our expectation that a good proportion of these will in some form or another), then these will potentially affect / remove the applicability of Options 2, 3 and 4 from BCA TGN 18, and consequently our Cladding Memorandum.
Given the serious potential consequences and ramifications of the above to projects, and until such time as the industry receives clear guidance from the government on any planned changes to the acceptance / use of materials that are not of limited combustibility or better in external walls we are strongly recommending that our clients consider the implications of the above to their projects, both current and planned.