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ARCH annual report


The ARCH annual report for 2015-16 is now available to view.


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Grenfell Tower update 06/07/2017

As reported in a previous bulletin, ARCH will ensure that members are kept up-to-date on developments in fire safety following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower. We will continue to support members in their response to this disaster and any arising actions.


Sajid Javid, The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, gave an update on the situation to Parliament on 3 July.


He reported on precautions that should be taken now to avoid another tragedy saying that the Building Research Establishment (BRE) is continuing to test the combustibility of cladding from councils and housing associations, as well as private landlords. The focus to date has been on testing buildings clad with Aluminium Composite Material (ACM). At 3 July 2017, 181 samples out of 181 tested had failed the BRE's combustibility test.


In making his statement to the House of Commons, the Secretary of State, said:


"It's obviously disturbing that there are such a large number of buildings with combustible cladding, and the priority now is to make those buildings safe.


"Where appropriate mitigating measures cannot be implemented quickly landlords must provide alternative accommodation while the remedial work is carried out, and that is exactly what happened in the 4 tower blocks in Camden.


"Our primary concern has been buildings over 18 metres, or 6 storeys, where people stay at night.


"Hospitals and schools are also being assessed.


"Mr. Speaker, we ourselves have asked questions about the testing regime after discovering the 100% failure rate so far.


"Last week I asked for the testing regime to be independently assessed.


"This was carried out by the Research Institutes of Sweden, and they have confirmed they believe the process to be sound."


Read the full explanatory briefing note on the testing process.

"As the note explains, every failed test means the panels are unlikely to be compliant with the limited combustibility requirement of the building regulations guidance.


This has been confirmed by legal advice and the advice of the independent expert panel that was established last week.


For use of the panels to be safe landlords need to be confident that the whole wall system has been tested and shown to be safe."


Read the full text of the Secretary of State's update to Parliament.


The Expert Advisory Panel established to provide independent advice to the Secretary of State on any immediate measures that may need to be put in place to make buildings safe for residents has also met for the first time.


The Panel will:


  • Focus on providing advice relating to fire and building safety, and how to ensure the public are safe in high rise buildings.
  • Consider whether there are any immediate additional actions that should be taken to ensure the safety of existing high rise buildings.
  • Consider whether there are any changes or clarifications required to existing regulations, and provide advice on possible changes, including making recommendations on the use of specific materials.
  • Consider whether the current processes for checking building safety are fit for purpose, and whether any changes are required.


The Expert Advisory Panel has said:


"The tests that are currently being conducted are a screening test to identify which Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panels are of concern. It tests the filler - the core of the panel - to check if it is of limited combustibility (category 1) or not (category 2 or 3). This is in line with the requirement of the Building Regulations guidance. The filler is one element of the overall cladding system.


"If the panel core fails the test we would expect the landlord to take the recommended interim fire safety measures issued on 22 June 2017.


"The Panel will engage with experts across the country to consider whether these panels can be used safely as part of a wider building external wall system, and therefore could remain on a building under certain approved circumstances. If, in the meantime, the responsible person for the building chooses to take down and replace cladding, care should be taken to consider the impact that removal may have on the other wall elements, especially insulation, and therefore on the overall fire integrity of the building as well as other Building Regulation requirements. The advice of a competent professional who specialises in the fire performance of cladding assemblies should be sought to assist in these considerations."


On 6 July, the Expert Advisory Panel recommended further tests on cladding and insulation to establish how different types of ACM panels in combination with different types of insulation behave in a fire.


The results of these tests will help landlords make decisions on any further measures that may need to be put in place to make their buildings safe following the Grenfell Tower fire. These tests will be undertaken by the BRE and will not require any new samples from buildings.


The further tests - which will look at three different types of ACM cladding combined with different types of insulation - will be in accordance with British Standard 8414 in line with the panel's advice. This involves building a nine metre tall demonstration wall with a complete cladding system - including panels and insulation - fixed to it, and then subjecting it to a fire that replicates a severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window and whether it then spread up the outside wall.


In addition, the Expert Advisory Panel recommended issuing further practical advice on immediate steps landlords can take to identify their wall materials including insulation. This will be published shortly.


The government has now commissioned the BRE to undertake these tests as a matter of urgency. The results will be made public. Landlords will be expected to take their own professional advice on what is required for their buildings in the usual way.


Read further details of this latest announcement by the Expert Advisory Panel


Although attention is currently focused on the cladding used on Grenfell Tower and other residential and commercial tower blocks, the causes of the fire at Grenfell Tower and why it spread have not yet been established. As the causes become clearer ARCH will be keen to understand from members the precise implications for stock retained councils, whether capital works, improved management or the need to rehouse vulnerable residents will be needed and the cost implications as we pursue a discussion with the new government on housing investment and the future of rents policy.


To this end, ARCH Policy Adviser, Matthew Warburton, has written to all ARCH member councils asking them to share information and we would urge any members that have not responded to do so urgently.

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