The government has announced that it is tightening the rules on the use of the kind of cladding that was present on the Grenfell Tower when it went up in flames with tragic consequences five years ago.
Following the enquiry and new government tests on the performance of materials when exposed to fire, Approved Document B of the new regulations, a further update to the Building Regulations 2010, states that from December 1st metal composite panels with a polythene core, known as MCM CE cannot be used on any new building of over 18m in height.
These cladding panels had already been banned on new residential buildings and hospitals, but this will now apply to hotels, hostels and boarding houses.
In addition, there will be more new regulations in place for buildings of between 11 and 18 metres and the kind of materials that are permissible for use on them. This will provide more flexibility in material options to ensure they are more energy efficient, while alongside these will be extensive provisions for sprinkler systems to help tackle any fires that do occur.
Commenting on the decision, minister for building and fire safety Lord Greenhalgh said: “These changes will support our tough new regulatory regime, ensuring fire safety measures are incorporated into new high-rise homes and all new residential buildings meet the same safety standards.”
Until December 1st it will still be legal to use MCM CE cladding on new buildings that begin construction before that date, or within six months of then if this falls within the notice period of the start of construction. But many building firms may decide that they should not do so in view of the upcoming implementation of the new rules.
Indeed, some existing building owners may decide they need to remove their existing MCM CE cladding and put new materials in place to secure and insulate the buildings.
The new rules also include some other provisions developers need to note before ordering insulation materials. For example, the list of materials exempt from the new ban will include fibre optic cables and associated insulation materials placed up to 300 mm from ground level.
With widespread concern about the energy performance of buildings, including the high and rising cost of heating buildings without good insulation during an energy crisis and the environmental consequences of the extra emissions involved, there will be a growing need to find new forms of cladding and insulation that keep buildings warm without creating undue fire risks.
The original restrictions on the use of MCM CE cladding were announced in 2019. The then communities secretary, the late James Brokenshire, revealed that a £200 million fund would be created to ensure unsafe cladding on 170 tall residential buildings around Britain was removed and replaced.
When he announced the fund, Mr Brokenshire accused some building owners of being “reckless” in not taking action to remove the cladding in a timely fashion and treating “temporary” safety steps as a permanent solution.
A total of 72 people died in the tragedy at the Grenfell Tower in west London, since when an enquiry established a range of issues with the safety of the cladding materials used and lax implementation of safety rules.