New Cladding Materials Tests Announced

The Government has widened its fire testing regime to include other materials than aluminium composite material (ACM), which could mean ‘potential uncertainty for thousands more residents’.

The Guardian reported on the announcement that the government’s Housing Minister, Kit Malthouse, has ordered combustibility tests on cladding panels used on high rise residential blocks, hotels and student accommodation ‘that differ’ from ACM panels used on 437 buildings ‘identified so far’. Research has suggested that ‘at least’ 160 high rises have been built with materials used in rainscreen cladding systems ‘that have not been accounted for’ in prior government testing.

These include high pressure laminate (HPL) panels made from compressed wood or paper fibre, used to produce ‘colourful skins for new buildings’, and some of which are classed as combustible. The development follows pressure from the Labour party, with The Guardian pointing out that it has ‘the potential to dramatically increase the number of buildings that may require action to make them safe’.

Earlier this week in parliament, Mr Malthouse stated that fire safety experts had updated guidance for the government, adding that ‘we have commissioned the Building Research Establishment to conduct a programme of testing on non-ACM materials and we expect that testing to start shortly’. He added that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government had been ‘cajoling’ private building owners to remove ACM panels, and was considering ‘more assertive’ measures.

This was because the latest government figures showed that only five of 176 privately owned towers identified as having combustible ACM cladding had seen panels replaced. An urgent question in parliament had been lodged by shadow housing and communities secretary John Healey, to which Mr Malthouse replied: ‘There remain 42 private residential buildings for which the owner’s plans are unclear, so we are maintaining pressure and rule out no solutions.’