Strip­ping Gren­fell-style cladding puts blocks at more risk

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Robert Booth

The gov­ern­ment has is­sued a warn­ing that strip­ping sus­pect cladding from build­ings fol­low­ing the Gren­fell Tower blaze could in­crease fire risks, as it emerged that com­bustible in­su­la­tion has been left ex­posed for weeks on Sal­ford blocks that are home to more than a thou­sand peo­ple.

Dozens of coun­cils have been re­mov­ing polyethy­lene-filled alu­minium pan­els like those used on Gren­fell, but now the De­part­ment for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment has warned the build­ings’ own­ers “not to cre­ate con­di­tions which may worsen the in­tegrity of the cladding sys­tem … [in­clud­ing] leav­ing ma­te­rial ex­posed which could re­duce fire per­for­mance”.

The warn­ing came as the Guardian es­tab­lished that in­su­la­tion more com­bustible than that used on Gren­fell Tower has been left ex­posed for up to three weeks on at least six blocks on the Pendle­ton es­tate in Sal­ford, Greater Manch­ester, in­clud­ing at least one 22-storey tower.

Ten­ants of the re­cently re­vamped blocks have voiced alarm that their homes may have been left more, not less, vul­ner­a­ble by the re­moval of the same pan­els that caught fire in the Gren­fell dis­as­ter. One safety ex­pert said the land­lord’s ac­tions led to a breach of build­ing reg­u­la­tions and cre­ated “a known fire risk”.

“Peo­ple in this block and the other blocks want the in­su­la­tion tak­ing out,” said Jon Smith, a res­i­dent for 20 years at the 22-storey Thorne House on the es­tate. “It is more dan­ger­ous in our opin­ion than the cladding that cov­ers it be­cause it is com­bustible. Now it is ex­posed, you only need some idiot af­ter a night on the drink de­cid­ing to con­duct their own fire test and the whole block goes up.”

Start­ing three weeks ago, the same pan­els as used on Gren­fell were stripped from many of the flats in Sal­ford by Pendle­ton To­gether Hous­ing, which man­ages the prop­er­ties for the coun­cil. They left ex­posed large ar­eas of syn­thetic phe­no­lic in­su­la­tion, which is rated ei­ther B or C for re­ac­tion to fire in Bri­tish Stan­dard tests, mean­ing they are com­bustible.

Arnold Tar­ling, a char­tered sur­veyor at Hind­woods and a fire safety ex­pert, said: “It is def­i­nitely a fire risk now when it might not have been in the past. Ex­posed in­su­la­tion on the ex­te­rior of a build­ing is not safe be­cause of the risk of the fire spread­ing over the sur­face. It doesn’t com­ply with build­ing reg­u­la­tions … They have guar­an­teed there is def­i­nitely a fire risk.”

The gov­ern­ment has been crit­i­cised for un­clear ad­vice about re­moval of pan­els that have failed new com­bustibil­ity tests on 233 res­i­den­tial tow­ers since Gren­fell.

‘In our opin­ion, the in­su­la­tion is more dan­ger­ous than the cladding that cov­ers it’

Sal­ford’s mayor, Paul Den­nett com­plained this month that “coun­cils are be­ing left to make de­ci­sions about com­plex tech­ni­cal mat­ters amid un­clear gov­ern­ment guid­ance, con­flict­ing ad­vice and in­for­ma­tion which changes by the hour”.

The lat­est gov­ern­ment guid­ance states that “where sam­ple pan­els are re­moved they should be re­placed im­me­di­ately with a suit­able ma­te­rial” that en­sures com­pli­ance with the fire reg­u­la­tions.

A se­nior White­hall source said yes­ter­day: “We have not rec­om­mended at any stage that rain cladding should be re­moved on its own. I am not sure why you would re­move just the rain cladding and leave po­ten­tially greater risk of fire to the ex­te­rior of the build­ing.”

Guardian pho­to­graphs of the par­tially re­moved cladding in Sal­ford show ex­posed pan­els of Kooltherm K15 in­su­la­tion man­u­fac­tured by Kingspan, which was used on a small part of Gren­fell tower. Kingspan said it shouldn’t have been used on that project as it has never been tested with the Reynobond polyethy­lene-filled pan­els that were also used in Sal­ford.

It said it “would be very sur­prised if such a sys­tem … would ever pass the ap­pro­pri­ate Bri­tish Stan­dard 8414 large scale test”. It is rated C for re­ac­tion to fire, mean­ing it is ca­pa­ble of sus­tain­ing a fire on its own, ac­cord­ing to Tar­ling.

Kingspan said it was not aware of stud­ies that showed tem­po­rary re­moval of cladding ex­pos­ing in­su­la­tion could in­crease fire risk. How­ever “each project should be the sub­ject of an in­di­vid­ual risk as­sess­ment by an ap­pro­pri­ately qual­i­fied ex­pert to de­ter­mine the im­pact that the re­moval … will have on the per­for­mance of the in­su­la­tion boards un­der­neath”.

Also on the Sal­ford homes is Xtratherm Safe-R, rated B, which Tar­ling said means it is sus­cep­ti­ble to sur­face burn­ing.

Pendle­ton To­gether said it is now plan­ning to cover the in­su­la­tion with tem­po­rary ce­ment boards, which do not burn. They are widely used in the pri­vate sec­tor but are said to cost up to twice as much as plas­tic-filled pan­els. A spokes­woman said: “We have put ad­di­tional fire safety mea­sures in place to en­sure the safety of our res­i­dents and to pro­vide re­as­sur­ance.”

Gov­ern­ment tests on full-scale cladding sys­tems are ex­pected to pro­duce their first re­sults this week. Min­is­ters had faced crit­i­cism for only test­ing the plas­tic core of alu­minium com­pos­ite pan­els, re­sult­ing in a 100% fail­ure rate.

Yes­ter­day, the shadow chan­cel­lor, John McDon­nell, said those re­spon­si­ble for “so­cial mur­der” at Gren­fell Tower should be held to ac­count. Asked on The An­drew Marr Show if he re­gret­ted hav­ing pre­vi­ously said peo­ple were mur­dered by po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions, McDon­nell replied: “No, I don’t re­gret that. I was ex­tremely an­gry with what went on … Po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions were made which re­sulted in the deaths of th­ese peo­ple. That’s a scan­dal.”

Salix Court, one of the blocks in Sal­ford that have had the cladding re­moved

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