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Written Statement - Response to Grenfell Tower: Further Update

Carl Sargeant, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children

Following my oral statement on Tuesday and my commitment to share information as soon as possible, the situation is changing rapidly and there are a few developments on which I am now able to provide a further update.

Firstly, in relation to the testing of samples from tower blocks in Newport. Newport City Homes submitted samples of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding from the Milton Court, Hillview and Greenwood tower blocks to the Building Research Establishment (BRE). The test results have now been received and the landlord issued a statement yesterday.

The DCLG guidance of 22 June sent to all Registered Social Landlords provides clear advice on a range of measures to be taken in the event of samples failing initial tests, including the need to undertake urgent fire risk assessments, to ensure the safety of residents.  Newport City Homes has confirmed to me that all recommended interim fire safety measures as per the advice have been implemented. The South Wales Fire and Rescue Service (SWFRS) has inspected and reported adequate fire safety provisions were found to be in place during its audit.  The premises have been deemed compliant in terms of the legislation that SWFRS enforces. SWFRS continues to support Newport City Homes and its residents.

I am pleased that tenants’ needs are at the heart of this activity and that Newport City Homes is working very positively with the Fire and Rescue Service.  It is reassuring that fire safety officers will be on-site today and tomorrow to answer tenants’ questions.

Newport City Homes, as landlord, is also working closely with the Welsh Government, Community Housing Cymru and Newport City Council. Paramount in all of this is ensuring tenants are fully apprised of the situation and that appropriate communications and support are in place. I am pleased to see Newport City Homes and partners have taken a proactive stance to ensure tenants are briefed and reassured.

You will also have seen the statement yesterday by the City and County of Swansea. This confirmed that further tests had been undertaken in relation to material similar to that used on the buildings in Swansea. The further test was commissioned independently by the German manufacturer of a product called Alucobond Plus. This test was a full system test, not just a sample test of the cladding. We understand that this test has demonstrated that the system complies with the guidance in Building Regulations Approved Document B Volume 2 – Fire Safety for full scale tests (Annex A of BR135 – fire performance of external thermal insulation for walls of multi-storey buildings).

Members will be aware of the statement by Denbighshire County Council on the decision to close Rhyl High School today and tomorrow. This is a new school that was supported by our 21st Century Schools programme and includes high levels of fire protection. We issued guidance to local authorities and FE establishments yesterday confirming that only buildings within schools and FE colleges that included overnight accommodation or is above 18 metres in height, needed to be considered for testing for ACM.

Finally, we welcome the UK expert panel’s announcement today that their next step will be to carry out a number of ‘whole system’ tests to help establish how different types of ACM cladding panels in combination with different types of insulation behave in a fire. These are tests similar to the one carried out on behalf of the manufacturer of the cladding in use in Swansea. They will be helpful in considering whether panels which fail the initial test can be used safely as part of a wider building external wall system, and therefore could remain on a building under certain approved circumstances.

I will continue to provide updates as necessary.