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Building Safety: Combustible Materials

Volume 659: debated on Wednesday 1 May 2019

The Government’s building safety programme has focused primarily on immediate interim mitigation actions and permanent replacement of unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) panels on high-rise buildings because of the acute risks posed by such panels.

In addition, we have banned the use of combustible materials in the exterior walls of all new residential buildings over 18 metres in height and certain other new high-rise buildings. We have acted on the advice of the Government’s independent expert advisory panel (IEAP) and issued advice to building owners about the steps they should take to ensure the safety of their existing buildings with other external wall systems that do not incorporate ACM, reiterating that the clearest way to ensure safety is to remove any unsafe materials. This advice was first issued in December 2017 and updated in December 2018 in the Department’s advice note 14:

The IEAP also advised the Department to establish a research project to test and improve the evidence available on the behaviour of a range of non-ACM materials used in cladding systems when subjected to fire. The Building Research Establishment (BRE), has been commissioned to undertake this project.

The materials to be tested are: copper and zinc composite materials; aluminium honeycomb panels; high-pressure laminate panels; brick slips; and reconstituted stone. Tests will be carried out over the coming weeks and are expected to conclude in early summer.

A number of parameters characterising the behaviours of materials in a fire will be considered. The aim of the tests is to provide comparative data to enable an assessment of relative risks. There is no simple pass or fail criterion for each test. A copy of the methodology has been put in the Library of the House.

A full picture of the outcomes of the tests can only be provided following a detailed analysis of all the test data. We expect this analysis to be completed in the summer and we will publish the conclusions of the programme thereafter.

If any tests suggest an immediate public safety concern, the Government will consult the IEAP urgently, consider appropriate action, and inform the House and public accordingly.

In the meantime, building owners should follow the advice set out in advice note 14.