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Last edited 19 Nov 2020
Consultation on banning the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings
On 18 June 2018, Housing Secretary James Brokenshire announced a consultation on banning the use of combustible materials on the external walls of residential buildings which are 18 m or more tall. This is despite the fact that the Hackitt review of the building regulations and fire safety, final report did not recommend such a ban, and the cladding used on Grenfell Tower did not comply with the existing building regulations and so should not have been used.
The consultation is inviting views on proposals to revise the building regulations to ban the use of combustible materials in the inner leaf, insulation and cladding of the external walls of residential buildings which are 18 m or more tall, and whether only materials in the top two European classes for fire performance should be allowed over the entire external wall system, with limited exemptions covering parts of the wall, such as paint, that do not present a significant risk.
The government repeated advice that the clearest ways of ensuring an external wall system resists external fire spread are either for all of the relevant elements of the wall to be Class A1 or Class A2, or to use an external wall system which can be shown to have passed a large-scale test conducted to BS8414. The government pointed out that whilst Dame Judith Hackitt did not propose an outright ban, she did suggest that using products which are non-combustible or of limited combustibility was the lower risk option rather than undergoing a full system test.
James Brokenshire said; ”I have listened carefully to concerns and I intend to ban the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, subject to consultation… I believe that the changes on which we are consulting will offer even greater certainty to concerned residents and to the construction industry.”
The consultation closed on 14 August 2018.
In August 2018, the RIBA submitted evidence to the government's consultation on the banning of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings. They suggested that the only way to ensure that such buildings are safe and fit for the future, is a complete ban.
Contrary to those arguing for Class A2 products of 'limited combustibility' to continue to be permitted, the RIBA state that Class A1 'non-combustible' certification is the way forward. They also 'strongly recommend' that the ban is extended to include any high-rise buildings, not just residential.
“Continuing to allow materials of ‘limited combustibility’ (A2 classification) is unacceptable in the wake of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the evidence from the UK and around the world that these materials do not provide adequate protection for the public.
"There is a lot of confusion in the industry over what materials are, and should be, permitted on both new buildings and in the retro-fitting of existing buildings. Banning these materials is the first step towards restoring the trust in our regulatory system and the building industry.”
 August 2018
In August 2018, the UK's human rights watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission wrote to MHCLG outlining its concerns that the government is breaching human rights obligations by failing to address the systemic problems that led to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, chiefly the continued use of combustible cladding.
The Commission expressed concerns that the consultation on the ban does not include any reference to the duty to protect lives enshrined under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998.
The Commission said; “Combustible cladding is still present in many other buildings as well, including schools, leisure centres and hospitals. Estimates of the number of buildings affected run into the thousands, with the estimated costs of replacing combustible materials running into many millions of pounds. All those costs stem from the state’s failure to provide a building construction and fire safety system that is fit for purpose.”
 October 2018
On 1 October 2018, the government confirmed that it would ban the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings. The ban is to also apply to hospitals, care homes and student accommodation over 18 m-tall. (Hotels and office buildings are to be exempt due to their different evacuation strategies and lower risks.)
Confirming the ban at the annual Conservative Party conference, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said that it would be delivered through changes to the Building Regulations to be brought forward in late-autumn 2018. This will limit materials available for such applications to products that achieve a European classification of Class A1 or A2.
In response, the RIBA said; "It is good news that the Government has acted on the RIBA’s recommendations to ban combustible cladding on high-rise residential buildings over 18 m ... However, toxic smoke inhalation from the burning cladding very likely contributed to the disproportionately high loss of life at the Grenfell Tower disaster. Permitting all products classified as A2 does not place any limits on toxic smoke production and flaming particles/droplets. In our view, this is not an adequate response to the tragic loss of life and might still put the public and the fire and rescue authorities at unnecessary risk.”
 Court challenge
On 27th November 2019, after a challenge to the consultation process that introduced the ban, the High Court ruled that the consultation had been inadequate in respect of the inclusion of products intended to reduce heat gain within a building (for example, blinds, shutters and awnings) within the ban. As a result the Court quashed one part of the 2018 regulations which had included within the ban ”a device for reducing heat gain within a building by deflecting sunlight which is attached to an external wall”. The practical effect of the Court judgment is that the regulations now exist as if that section of the regulations had never been included in the ban. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/building-amendment-regulations-2018-circular-032019
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