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Fortem to replace HPL cladding on Oxford tower blocks

11 Jul 19 Oxford City Council has decided to replace high pressure laminate (HPL) cladding from its tower blocks.

Hockmore Tower
Hockmore Tower

The council said that its decision to replace some of the cladding on Hockmore Tower in Cowley follows a partial clarification from the government last week (1st July) about the use of cladding on tower blocks. Two other blocks also have a small amount of HPL material to be replaced.

Immediately after the June 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower in London, Oxford City Council committed to remove the aluminium composite material (ACM) rain screen from the Evenlode and Windrush towers on the Blackbird Leys estate. ACM was the type of rain screen used in Grenfell Tower.  This work was completed in June 2018.

However, in May 2019 it emerged that a cladding system featuring a high-pressure laminate (HPL) rain screen and combustible insulation had failed a fire safety test carried out by a private company.

Last week the government said that, in light of this, owners of tower blocks should remove cladding consisting of HPL rain screens and combustible insulation.

While the insulation on Hockmore Tower is non-combustible Rockwool, the new government guidance changes the interpretation of building regulations and Oxford City Council has taken the decision to remove and replace the building’s HPL rain screen.

Last month it was reported that L&Q, Hyde Housing, Enfield Council, Notting Hill Genesis, Clarion, Metropolitan Thames Valley, Barking & Dagenham Council and Newham Council had all decided to remove HPL cladding from 10 blocks.

Research carried out by insulation manufacturer Rockwool estimated that almost 1,700 high-rise and high-risk buildings have potentially combustible cladding materials different to that used on Grenfell Tower, a large proportion of which are HPL.

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Oxfordshire’s chief fire officer has assured residents of Hockmore Tower that their building is safe because the building has a comprehensive range of fire safety measures in place, including sprinklers and fire doors.

The HPL rain screen – known as Trespa FR (Fire Resistant) – covers just 40% of Hockmore Tower’s façade. The remaining façade is covered by sheet aluminium, considered to be the safest type of rain screen on the market.

A small amount of HPL rain screen will also be removed from Evenlode and Windrush tower blocks in Blackbird Leys. The rain screen covers only the balcony panels – less than 10% of each building’s façade.

The cladding was installed on Evenlode, Hockmore and Windrush towers between 2016 and 2017 to improve the insulation of the buildings and reduce residents’ energy bills.

Oxford City Council will replace the HPL rain screen in all cases with sheet aluminium. The non-combustible mineral wool insulation beneath the rain screen will remain.

The council has allocated £1.5m to the works, which it aims to complete by January 2020. Fortem, which has been contracted to carry out the replacement, estimates that it will take three to four months to replace the cladding on the tower blocks.

Jonathan O’Neill, managing director at the Fire Protection Association, said: “Combustible cladding has no place on any building and must be removed immediately. No question. It’s a proven fire risk and residents need certainty about the safety of their homes.”

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