Council to remove tower block cladding amid fire safety fears
Hockmore Tower (Image: BM3 Architecture)
Oxford City Council has decided to remove a cladding system featuring a high-pressure laminate (HPL) rain screen from a Cowley tower block amid fire safety fears.
The council said it had made the decision after a partial clarification from the government last week about the use of cladding on tower blocks.
The government has not yet carried out its own test on HPL rain screens – but on 1 July it confirmed for the first time that the owners of tower blocks needed to remove cladding consisting of HPL rain screens and combustible insulation.
In May, it emerged that the cladding system on Hockmore Tower in Cowley had failed a fire safety test carried out by a private company. The HPL rain screen – known as Trespa FR (Fire Resistant) – covers 40% of Hockmore Tower’s façade. The remaining façade is covered by sheet aluminium. The insulation within the cladding system is non-combustible Rockwool and will remain in place.
Oxford City Council will attempt to recover the cost of remediation work on the tower from the government.
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy on 14 June 2017, the council had already committed to remove the aluminium composite material (ACM) rain screen that surrounded Evenlode and Windrush towers in Blackbird Leys, completing the work last year.
Oxfordshire’s chief fire officer told residents of Hockmore Tower that their building is safe and will remain safe during and after the work to replace the rain screen thanks to a range of fire prevention measures including sprinklers in all flats and bin storage areas, as well as heat and smoke detectors in all communal areas, all of which are directly connected to a call-out system for the fire service.
Councillor Mike Rowley, Oxford City Council cabinet member for affordable housing, said: “Now that the Government has provided greater clarity on its requirements for tower blocks, we are acting quickly to remove and replace the cladding on Hockmore Tower.”
Simon Furlong, chief fire officer of Oxfordshire County Council’s Fire and Rescue Service, said: “When we assess fire safety we look at the building in the round. Hockmore Tower – with its fire alarms, upgraded fire doors, evacuation policy and, most especially, its sprinklers – far exceeds the standards required to determine that the building is safe.”
Commenting on the council’s decision, Jonathan O’Neill, managing director at the Fire Protection Association said: “Combustible cladding has no place on any building and must be removed immediately. No question. It’s a proven fire risk and residents need certainty about the safety of their homes”.