Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference at the ICC in Birmingham yesterday, housing secretary James Brokenshire said the ban will apply to high-rise residential buildings taller than 18 m, as well as schools, hospitals and care homes.
Materials with limited combustibility, such as plasterboard, and non-conbustible materials – classified as A2 and A1 respectively under the European classification system – would be allowed.
The move comes 15 months after the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people when it spread rapidly through the 24-storey block of flats in west London on 14 June 2017.
Brokenshire said he wanted to “bring about a change in culture on building safety” after the “unimaginable horror [of the Grenfell disaster] has shocked us all and underlined the need to do all that we can to see that such disaster cannot happen again”.
However, IOSH said that while the ban “provides some clarity and simplification”, it warned that it does not cover existing residential tower blocks, as well as new offices and other buildings.
Richard Jones, the institution’s head of policy and public affairs, said: “Banning the use of combustible materials on new high-rise residential buildings is a step in the right direction. But it doesn’t go far enough. In cities and towns across the UK, many people live and work in high-rise buildings. They all need to be protected. Therefore, the ban should cover all high-rise buildings – existing and new – and both residential and non-residential.”
Dame Judith Hackitt, a former chair of the Health and Safety Executive and current chair of manufacturing trade body EEF, carried out the government-commissioned review of the UK’s building and fire regulations after the disaster. Published in May, her final report did not recommend prohibiting combustible cladding.
Hackitt defended her decision not to advocate a ban at IOSH’s annual conference in September. She said: “If we only fix the cladding issue, we could only guarantee there would not be another fire caused by cladding. Unless we fix the system we have no way of guaranteeing we couldn’t have another catastrophic high-rise fire caused by something else.
“We have to get to the point where those who commission and build buildings feel as responsible for the people who occupy them as they do for those who construct them,” she said.
However, shortly after the final report was published, Brokenshire issued a consultation on proposals to revise the building regulations to ban the use of combustible materials in the inner leaf, insulation and cladding used on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings.
RIBA submitted evidence to this consultation in August. It argued for an outright ban on combustible materials used in any high-rise buildings, including A2 products, and said A1 materials only, which include metal, stone and glass, should be used.
In response to yesterday’s announcement on the ban, RIBA’s director of professional services Adrian Dobson, said: “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.”
Matt Wrack, general secretary at the FBU, said: “The Westminster government continues to allow cladding of limited combustibility for any building work in future […] These measures do not deal with the existing cladding on nearly 500 buildings across England where people live and work every day.
"The government’s proposals only apply to buildings over 18 m high, plus hospitals, care homes and student accommodation when they should apply to all buildings whatever their height or use. They continue to allow A2 materials, when they should permit only the highest standard of A1.”
The ban does not apply to buildings where combustible materials have already been fitted. However, the government pledged £400m to remove and replace unsafe Grenfell-style cladding from council and housing association tower blocks in England and work began in April.
Jones added: “Existing buildings should not remain clad in combustible materials but should have improvement plans put in place. We also believe it is unacceptable to allow building work using newly-banned materials to start or continue, so the ban should apply to projects already underway.”
The government is expected to respond to the recommendations in Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: final report this autumn.