Monday, 19 June 2017

When is a product banned?

Tim Clark, acting news editor, Construction News (Monday 19 June):

When is a product banned and when is it not banned? 
Responding to a question on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday, chancellor Philip Hammond said it was “his understanding” that the cladding used on the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was “banned” in the UK.  Hammond’s assertion was clarified by a Treasury official who said the chancellor was commenting on buildings “above a certain height”.
Mr Hammond’s comments have been rejected by the boss of CEP Architectural Facades, which fabricated the rainscreen panels and windows for Harley Facades, the subcontractor appointed to install the cladding on the tower block.
CEP Architectural Facades’ MD John Cowley said that the product in question, Reynobond PE, is actually not banned in the UK.
So which is it, and why is the chancellor becoming involved in a story which is a long way from his brief at the Treasury?
Industry expert and chief executive of Cast Consulting Mark Farmer told CN that he was “astonished” by Mr Hammond’s remarks.
Mr Farmer said: “How can a senior member of government misrepresent the position like this at such a sensitive time? The inquiry will shine a public spotlight on the construction industry as perhaps never before.
“It is bound to identify many of the systemic failings that we suffer from in the industry but there are some simple regulatory facts that should be identified quickly – ie whether the cladding was indeed banned in the UK or not under Building Regulations when used as part of a refurbishment.”
As far as Construction News understands the chancellor may be correct – if the terms of his comments are applied to the narrow view of how the particular materials were used on Grenfell Tower itself.
The chancellor’s views can be backed up by technical requirements for tall buildings which are found in the depths of Part B of the building regulations code.
To explain we need to take a short history lesson.
In the aftermath of the great fire of London in 1666, the capital drew up some of the most stringent fire regulations anywhere in the world.
However, after being in force for around three centuries, the London Building Regulations were superseded in the mid-1980s when national building regulations came into force.
According to former chief fire officer Ronnie King, the cladding used at Grenfell “may” not have been allowed if the previous London building regs were still in force today.
Mr King, who now acts as group secretariat for the Parliament’s all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group said that, the current rules – which were probed in depth during the coroner’s report into the Lakanal incident in 2009 – were however “ambiguous”.
Par 12.7 of part B2 of the building regs says that “in a building with a story 18m or more above ground level any insulation product, filler material (not including gaskets, sealants and similar) etc. used in the external wall construction construction should be of limited combustibility”.
Mr King says that, if the core of a building has a combustible material contained within it, then the cladding of the building has to be non-flammable for buildings above 18 m.
Mr King says: “The proviso that Hammond went to, is that one table in the Approved Documents relating to dwellings said that when the core is combustible – the cladding would not have been compliant if the building was above 18 m.
“It would seem that those officials who confirmed that were right.
“However it is complicated as the coroner from Lakanal said was that the building regs themselves were too confusing, the lawyers can’t interpret them.
“After Lakanal, we had all these QCs at the inquest and they were all confused over what was applicable and what wasn’t.” 
A key issue here however is to establish whether the core of the tower at Grenfell did have a combustible material, and whether this meant that using the type of cladding would be banned.
However these issues are usually established through forensic investigation, either by an inquiry or through a London Fire Brigade report into the causes of the fire.
Having these facts established from a senior minister on national TV on a Sunday morning within days of the national tragedy has understandably raised eyebrows.

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