Tower blocks stripped of cladding as a fire risk could now pose a greater risk – from fire.
Councils and housing associations reacting to post-Grenfell safety fears have been warned by the DCLG “not to create conditions which may worsen the integrity of the cladding system … [including] leaving material exposed which could reduce fire performance”.
Dozens of councils nationwide have been removing polyethylene-filled aluminium panels like those used on Grenfell with combustible insulation left exposed for weeks.
The problem is pressing in Salford and exposed insulation on at least six blocks on the Pendleton estate managed by Pendleton Together Housing for Salford City Council.
Tenants of the recently revamped council blocks fear their homes may have been left more, not less, vulnerable to fire by the removal of the same panels that caught fire during the Grenfell disaster.
Arnold Tarling, a chartered surveyor at Hindwoods and a fire safety expert, said exposed insulation on the exterior of a building is not safe because of the risk of the fire spreading over the surface.
Pendleton Together said the removal of panels had been undertaken in coordination with technical experts, and with additional fire safety measures in place, it was planning to cover the insulation with temporary cement boards which do not burn.
This work is being carried out following advice from independent technical experts and will start this week as a temporary measure until a long term solution has been tested and confirmed
The government has been criticised for providing unclear guidance and conflicting advice about the removal of panels that have failed combustibility tests on 233 residential towers nationwide since Grenfell.
Latest guidance states that “where sample panels are removed they should be replaced immediately with a suitable material” that ensures compliance with the fire regulations.
Non-combustible cement-based panels are widely used in private sector housing and office blocks, but are said to cost up to twice as much as plastic-filled panels which have been widely used to re-clad council blocks.
This week, government fire tests on full scale cladding systems are expected to produce their first results.
Ministers were challenged for only testing the combustibility of the plastic core of aluminium composite panels which resulted in a 100% failure rate.
Now, the emphasis has shifted to how cladding, insulation and fixings respond to fire as a whole, with six such tests to begin at the Building Research Establishment laboratory.
Estimates indicate around 600 tall buildings in the UK are fitted with cladding of some sort.