Combustibles ban should be 'based on risk, not building height'

19 November 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

The fire at The Cube in Bolton (Image: GMFRS)

Last week’s Bolton blaze has prompted calls for the ban on combustible building materials to be based on risk, rather than just building height.

One of two buildings at The Cube development in Bolton caught fire on Friday evening (15 November) and spread rapidly, with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Services (GMFRS) now probing the role the cladding on the building played in the fire.

GMFRS had already established during previous inspections that the cladding on the building was not of the aluminium composite (ACM) type involved in the Grenfell Tower disaster and the Fire Protection Association (FPA) said it was a “stark reminder that the problem facing UK fire safety is the result of many issues and not just Grenfell style ACM cladding”.

Combustible materials were banned by the government on the external walls of buildings over 18m or six storeys.

But the FPA argued that despite the fact that The Cube was a modern building, designed and built using all of the latest rules, guides and expertise, the fire there still resulted in two injuries and should be classed as a “near-miss” event.

The association contended that although final details have not yet emerged, the cladding – reported but not confirmed to have been made up of high-pressure laminate (HPL) and timber cladding elements – played a “large part” in the fire’s progress.

The FPA said: “Since Grenfell, HPL has been talked about to some degree, but no doubt thorough investigations and consideration have been hampered by it not being the focus of a major incident - until now.

“This was a risk in a building only six storeys high, where students sleep. Clearly, we should not limit regulations to the mere height of a building.”

Jonathan O’Neill, managing director of the Fire Protection Association, added: “The fires at the Bolton student block, Worcester Park in London and the Beechmere care village in Cheshire, prove we cannot be housing people in buildings made from combustible materials. This issue needs to be addressed urgently; it simply cannot wait. We urge this issue to be a priority for the new government.”

The FPA is calling for:


Be careful what you’re wishing for. Before you start endorsing blanket bans on modern materials, remember why we have them in the first place. Which is, they were developed as a response to clients’ discontentment with the shortcomings of traditional materials.

Let’s not call for emotive bans. Let’s call, rather, for high quality science-based evidence upon which professional specifiers can base procurement approaches which satisfy customer requirements.

Construction professionals — not pressure groups like the FPA, and certainly not politicians — are the best people to design the best properties. To do so, they need more, not less, choice of materials.

Chris Pateman, 19 November 2019

Risk is not enough it should be everything across the board

Sheila, 19 November 2019

In response to the comment from Chris Pateman regarding the shortcomings of traditional materials it is worth reflecting on the longevity of buildings constructed from materials such as stone, brick, timber and lime. Many of these buildings are entering their second or third century of useful life. Modern materials may offer a number of benefits but will the buildings constructed with them still be in use in 200 years? We should not neglect the benefits and longevity of traditional materials.

Dr Moses Jenkins MCIOB, 21 January 2020

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