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Experts begin removing combustible cladding from UK high rise blocks

Residents of hundreds of high rises in the UK face being evacuated if the buildings are found to be clad in similar material as the Grenfell Tower block in London following urgent checks ordered by the Government.

At least 11 have already been confirmed to have panels that are combustible as 100 checks are being done a day with councils, landlords and management companies providing samples for testing.

Camden Council said five towers on the Chalcot Estate in London are potentially dangerous and work has already begun on removing aluminium panels but residents are staying on while the work is carried out. Barnet Council confirmed that inspectors have found that three of its blocks have similar panels but they are not combustible.

Thhe Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has issued guidance for councils, owners and landlords. They say that if the panels are found to be Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) that is unlikely to be compliant with the requirements of the current Building Regulations guidance, certain measures must be implemented.

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government confirmed that 600 buildings are being inspected and cladding has failed the test in 11 so far. ‘The tests, which are being conducted by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), can be done within hours allowing us to test more than 100 samples a day, with capacity expandable if needed. We would urge any landlord who owns a building of this kind to send samples for testing as a matter of urgency,’ he said.

‘The landlords for all the affected buildings will take action to inform tenants and implement the interim measures set out in guidance sent by the department this morning. We will make known any local authority or housing association whose sample has failed the test once they have informed local residents, to do so before, would be inappropriate,’ he pointed out.

‘To ensure that local authorities and housing associations know how to respond where tests do show action is needed my department has written to every one of them to ensure they know what immediate steps they should take if the testing shows cladding material is unlikely to be compliant with current Building Regulations,’ he explained.

‘Landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe buildings. Where they cannot do that, we expect alternative accommodation to be provided. My department stands ready to work with local authorities to ensure they can meet their obligations to provide safety for their tenants. We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes,’ he added.

The measures include informing the local fire and rescue service for them to carry out an urgent inspections and check on the most recent fire risk assessment for the building concerned. They are also told to communicate with residents to ensure they fully understand the emergency fire procedures in the building, particularly the meaning of ‘stay put’ and make sure all fire procedure notices are accurate.

Then they are told to check that, at ground level, or on any balconies, there are no combustible materials, such as storage of refuse, in the vicinity of the cladding and instruct residents that they must not have any barbeques on any balcony.

The instructions say to check that all flat entrance doors, and doors that open onto escape corridors and stairways, are fire resisting and effectively self-closing and also check all walls that separate flats, plant and store rooms, etc from escape routes to ensure there are no obvious routes for fire or smoke spread such as holes where services, such as pipes and cables, pass through walls.

Smoke control systems, including associated fire detection systems, should be tested to make sure they are operating correctly and if there is no sprinkler system they are advised to consider the need for interim measures.

On top of this residents should be asked to ensure all smoke alarms are present and working in their flat, to report concerns about fire safety measures in the building to their landlord and, understand the purpose of any interim measures begin taken.

It also suggests that it is worth putting in place a fire watch by appropriately trained patrolling security officers/wardens and concludes that in the case of the most serious risk, consideration must be given to moving all residents out of the block until satisfactory remedial work has been done.