Wakefield position: Cladding on tower blocks
Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have written to the Council and to all housing providers asking that the cladding on residential buildings over six storeys in height are immediately checked, and where appropriate samples of cladding are sent off for fire testing.
Wakefield Council has been in very close contact with Wakefield and District Housing (WDH) to seek assurances about the materials used on the residential buildings they manage. WDH has informed Wakefield Council that the materials used in the refurbishments of their tower blocks are not the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding panels present on Grenfell Tower. WDH have inspected all their high-rise residential blocks and are double-checking the materials and procedures, which have been used in recent refurbishment schemes to ensure they comply with the necessary requirements.
The Council is assisting them with this, providing technical information on the refurbishments. WDH have confirmed that they have started early scoping work on the feasibility and technical options for fitting sprinkler systems and other measures in their high-rise blocks. The Council have confirmed to them in writing that they have allowed any measures to improve the safety of the buildings to be undertaken with their implied consent.
Where the Council is the freeholder of residential holding, including tower blocks, leased to WDH, it has transferred virtually all the statutory health and safety obligations to those leaseholders. To ensure all leaseholders have taken the necessary steps in terms of certification, insurance and putting safe working procedures in place, the Council is actively seeking written assurance that these measures are being complied with.
The Council have written to over one thousand private residential landlords providing them with information on the Government offer of advice and support for materials testing.
Building regulations and fire safety requirements
In light of the Grenfell Tower disaster the Council is examining records of building regulation applications for residential buildings over six storeys in height that were built or refurbished in the last 15 years.
This task is ongoing but initial checks of the building stock within Wakefield has found that none of the type of cladding as used in Grenfell Tower has been found.
Work continues to look at tall buildings where cladding systems have been used.
There are still many unanswered questions surrounding the Grenfell Tower fire in terms of fire safety and building regulation requirements that need addressing. However, in lieu of any investigative findings the council needs to consider how it would determine any future building regulation application for a residential tower block to minimise the risks of this situation occurring in Wakefield.
The Council's Building Control service would take the following sequential steps
- On submission of an application the building regulation assessment would be undertaken by a qualified Building Control Surveyor who would carry out an in depth plan check to ensure compliance with all the applicable building regulations.
- The West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service would be consulted for their requirements and recommendations regarding means of warning and escape, internal fire spread (linings and structure), external fire spread, and access and facilities for the fire service. These are recorded and implemented where it can be required and all their recommendations would be passed onto the applicant to consider and justify if not providing.
- The fire resistance of the building in terms of evacuation time, and other fire precautions necessary , such as means of escape , fire detection and alarm systems, sprinklers , travel distances , number of exits , stairs would all be checked.
- The details of external walls will be checked to determine how long the structure should stay in place following or during a fire. There must be sufficient time for the occupants to escape and for the fire service to contain the fire and also ensures that the fire doesn't spread to adjoining properties.
- Buildings, depending on their use, are subdivided into fire resistant compartments, the most stringent being those used for residential purposes, i.e. anywhere with a sleeping risk. There should be no alteration to any internal fire precaution, such as; altering fire doors, breaching fire walls, removing self-closing devices or detection systems without consulting Building Control and the Fire Service.
- The policy for evacuation in a fire in a residential premises is a "stay put policy", as the outbreak fire should be contained. Occupants in immediate danger can escape to a place of safety and the fire service can access the building and take necessary action.
- Part of the checks carried out for external walls would be to consider the combustibility of materials used, and the mitigation of risk for fire to spread in concealed spaces. This depends on the height, use, and position of the building in proximity to its boundaries.
- To mitigate fire spread, fire / cavity barriers are required in concealed cavities, such as behind rain screen cladding at regular intervals and at all external compartment lines, thus ensuring a fire resistant cell within the building. The materials used as cladding on external walls would also be checked for compliance.
The Building Regulations do not have a list of banned or approved materials. It is the responsibility of the designer of the building or the manufacturer of materials used to demonstrate compliance depending on the configuration of the building.
Often certain products can achieve a certain level of rating in terms of combustibility or surface spread of flame. However, these should never be looked at in isolation as the tests carried out are usually carried out using a particular build-up of components. If any of the component parts of the tested sample are altered or are different to the test methodology, then the system should be disregarded in terms of compliance, and further reassurance or demonstration of compliance will be necessary.
Once the building construction plans are approved the Council undertakes inspection as construction on site progress. The checks of cavity barriers, fire resisting materials etc. are not statutory inspections as set out by the Building Act and do not remove the responsibility for compliance with the building owner. However the Inspections are designed to see as much of the fire precautions as is possible.
Building Control will take enforcement action against builders and contractors for non-compliance of the Building Regulations, and have secured a conviction in Court as recently as within the last 14 days.