Combustible Materials Ban – Update for Construction Company Owners

Combustible Materials Ban – Update for Construction Company Owners

24th December 2018

Last year’s tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in West London horrified the nation and, in the aftermath, resulted in the government commissioning the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt.  Because building legislation is an issue that affects all of our readers, we promised shortly after the fire that we would keep our audience informed of the news that results from the fire and the Hackitt Review and we’ve brought you regular updates over the past 18 months as new developments occurred. 

In November, the government revealed a new policy that applies to the external walls of all new buildings over 18 metres tall containing flats, as well as new-build hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools and student accommodation at universities and colleges.  This policy, which was announced by the Housing Secretary comes into effect on 21st December, also give full government backing (including financial support) to local authorities to remove combustible cladding from privately owned high rise blocks.  Building owners have been warned not to pass on the costs of removing unsafe cladding to leaseholders.

The combustible cladding ban actually goes beyond cladding and has implications for timber frame high rise buildings that are being planned.  In a bid to clear the confusion over which parts of the buildings the ban will apply to and, specifically, what is meant by an “external wall” the amended legislation defines an “external wall” as anything “located within any space forming part of the wall” and any decoration or finishes applied to external surfaces.  This also comprises doors, windows, roofs that are pitched at an angle of more than 70 degrees, together with balconies, devices which deflect sunlight and solar panels.  The impact assessment of the policy by the government reiterates that the use of timber materials in the external walls of buildings within the scope is prohibited, which is predicted to slow down the use of engineered timber in future developments in the long term.

Architects have responded to the legislation update by calling on the government to reconsider and review the legislation in order to ensure that engineered timber products such as cross laminated timber (CLT) as they play an essential role in the global battle against climate change.  Some have gone so far as to profess that the new policy “demonstrates a misunderstanding of the fire performance of engineered timber” whilst advocating for such products to be made exempt, claiming that engineered structural timber materials are safer in a fire than steel.  Mass timber is slow burning (and even self-extinguishing), structurally predictable and produces no toxic fumes in the event of a fire. 

According to architects (who have largely welcomed the new policy), banning safe timber construction will prevent the creation of healthy and safe cities on which we will increasingly depend in the future as we strive to prevent the worsening of global environmental problems caused by carbon emissions due to the use of materials such as concrete and steel.

This is an ongoing story and the Safety Fabrications team will be bringing you more information on this issue as we get it.  Don’t’ miss out on the latest news – you can follow us on Facebook or Twitter to stay fully up to date at all times.