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Wed July 08 2020

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Construction professions call for wider combustibles ban

3 Jun The Construction Industry Council (CIC) is recommending government extends the ban on the use of combustible materials to a wider range of buildings than is currently proposed.

It wants the ban to include care homes, halls of residence and possibly schools.

The CIC recommendations are in response to a government consultation first published in January 2020, which proposes changing the building regulations to ban the use of combustible materials in and on external walls and in specified attachments to the external walls on buildings such as hotels, hostels and boarding houses of 11-metre height or above.

The CIC  supports these changes but recommends they go further “to include residential buildings such as halls of residence and residential colleges.”

The Construction Industry Council is the umbrella body for many of construction’s professional institutions and associations.

Its response to the combustibles consultation says: “There is also a case to extend the ban to buildings where there is a reduced capacity for escape such as care homes and hospitals and where young people assemble, (e.g. schools and nurseries) and public assembly buildings (e.g. theatres, libraries and community centres).”

The CIC is also urging government to reduce the 11-metre height threshold for buildings where vulnerable people sleep, including care homes, which represent a higher risk.

The CIC response states: “A risk-based approach should be considered, rather than relying only on trigger heights as the key criteria for making these decisions. For example, Rosepark Care Home in Hertfordshire was only two storeys yet the 2017 fire there resulted in 14 deaths. We would welcome further research into the height aspect.”

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CIC chief executive Graham Watts said: “Our members are strongly of the view that government proposals, while extremely welcome, do not go far enough and we need to do more to protect the safety of the most vulnerable in society. It is for these reasons that we are urging that the ban on the use of combustible materials be extended to far wider use classes.”

The Government is proposing the outright ban on metal composite panels with a polyethylene core (including the type used on the Grenfell Tower); the CIC supports this ban.

The CIC does not want to see the use of structural timber being curtailed by the ban, however. “Timber structures are used successfully in buildings in other countries to heights well above 11 metres and the difference between fire risk in timber cladding and fire risk in timber structures should be fully understood before taking steps that may have the unintended consequence of prohibiting sustainable timber.”

A final area of concern to the CIC is the lack of focus on other aspects of the Building Safety Programme outside of fire and structural concerns, and it points to the significant potential problem of overheating in buildings, which it says is being overlooked.

The CIC says: “Overheating is already a problem – it is hard to quantify because cases are often being settled confidentially out of court. Further published, peer reviewed evidence (from University College London) suggests a growing problem, leading to several thousand excess deaths per year by 2050.

“The connection of the issue of overheating to this consultation on combustible materials is that it does not seem to acknowledge that overheating is a problem, or that external shading is one of the measures to mitigate it. There needs to be a commitment to some specific research into the influence of external shading devices on the external spread of fire.”

Consultation on the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s review of the ban on the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of buildings closed on 25th May 2020.

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