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Grenfell Tower disaster - frequently asked questions

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Frequently asked questions about the situation in Wales following the Grenfell Tower tragedy (last updated 16:00).

Current position

The Welsh Government continues to work with local authorities, building owners, managers, the third sector and others to ensure there is a full and accurate picture of high-rise residential buildings, particularly now those in the private sector,  and/or those with a ‘sleeping risk’  in all parts of Wales and, particularly, those with Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding.

 We have been advised that no school or Further Education buildings, meeting the priority criteria, have been found to have ACM cladding.   This is also the case with residential buildings in the NHS Wales estate.

Read the different criteria for ‘in-scope’ buildings.

In terms of higher education, HEFCW have collated comprehensive information on buildings within the HE sector.  They have been proactive in seeking to identify all buildings utilised by universities or their students.  Subsequent checks have not revealed any university owned residential buildings that fall within scope. Work continues to establish the situation with all privately owned student high-rise accommodation.

We are continuing to work with stakeholders to engage private sector owners and managing agents to clarify the position in relation to private sector residential high rise.

We have written to the freeholders/managing agents of over 100 privately owned high rise blocks setting out necessary steps to identify and test ACM where present, precautionary measures to be taken where ACM is present and reminding them of the need to undertake standard fire safety risk assessments in line with Government and FRS advice.  The Welsh Government is monitoring the situation to ensure that appropriate steps are taken by building owners, where appropriate.

Test results indicate ACM cladding is in place on a number of private sector properties in Cardiff.  The Welsh Government and the City and County of Cardiff are in close liaison with the managing agents of the properties to ensure appropriate steps are taken to comply with guidance.

We continue to work with the UK Government and will ensure stakeholders in Wales are updated as and when new information is received.

What has happened on whole-system testing?

We welcomed the UK Government’s Expert Panel announcement on 6 July (external link) that whole-system testing will take place. The seventh and final test was conducted and reported on 21 August 2017. The tests will help establish how different types of ACM panels in combination with different types of insulation behave in a fire (these tests, conducted by BRE, can be used to show compliance with the building regulations guidance).

The 7 whole-system tests incorporated each of the 3 common types of ACM panels, with core filler materials of unmodified polyethylene, fire retardant polyethylene, and limited combustibility filler.  The 3 insulation materials used in the testing were rigid polyisocyanurate foam, stone wool insulation and  phenolic foam.

The testing process will help owners and/or managing agents make decisions on any further measures that may need to be put in place to make their buildings safe following the Grenfell Tower fire. 

In doing so, they will need to consider all of the information and expert advice available to them in order to come to a view about the overall fire integrity of their buildings.  We would advise owners and/or managing agents to monitor future announcements from the Expert Group, and the Welsh Fire Safety Advisory Group to inform their future actions.

Read the results of the tests and guidance issued by DCLG for landlords and building owners

Will the Grenfell Tower Inquiry affect Wales?

This is an independent judge led inquiry and the terms of reference have been announced (external link). We welcome this independent review and will be looking closely at the findings to determine how they might inform policy and practice in Wales.

Will Building Regulations in Wales be reviewed?

We continue to liaise with the UK Government and the other administrations over action following the Grenfell Tragedy and welcomed the announcement of the independent review into Building Regulations and Fire Safety (Terms of reference - external link), chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt. We continue to engage with the UK Government and the review team 

Dame Judith Hackitt’s Interim Report (external link) was published on 18 December 2017.  A summary of the report is also available.

The final report is expected in Spring 2018. Feedback on the interim report and its findings is welcomed and can be sent to: BuildingRegulationsandFireSafetyReview@communities.gsi.gov.uk

or to:

Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety
3rd Floor, Fry Building
2 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DF
 
The Welsh Government continues to engage with the review.  In January, Dame Judith Hackitt and the review team will host two roundtable events for stakeholders in Wales. The stakeholders will include members from the construction industry and the housing sectors.

Will you be mandating retro-fit of sprinkler systems / revision of building regulations / review of fire checks?

The Fire Safety Advisory Group will consider the wider implications emerging from the Grenfell Tower disaster.

In Wales, we have already required, since 2006, sprinklers in all new and converted residential properties including high rise blocks over 18m. Grenfell, though, was an existing building. There are likely to be lessons to be learned for new developments, but more importantly we need to understand how tall buildings can be renovated safely.

Read the Householders Guide to Sprinklers.

How many social housing high rise blocks are there in Wales?

There are 38 tower blocks of seven storeys or more owned by social landlords in Wales (Local Authorities or Housing Associations).

Have all social housing blocks in Wales sent samples for testing?

Not all blocks will need to send samples for testing.

No high rise in Wales has the same type of cladding found in Grenfell Tower, i.e. Reynobond PE.

However, those with other brands of ACM or where it cannot be categorically proven that cladding is not ACM should send samples to BRE for testing without delay.

Seven social housing high rise blocks were identified as having ACM cladding and the samples were sent for testing.

Results for initial tests on social housing blocks

Swansea Council confirmed that tests relating to four tower blocks in the city failed initial tests. The Council, as landlords, are in regular communication with their tenants and are, as a priority, ensuring they are updated on developments at the earliest opportunity.

Swansea has also confirmed to us that all recommended interim fire safety measures recommended in the DCLG advice of 22 June have been implemented. The fire service have inspected and reported fire safety measures to be good.

BRE system Test 4 results were released on 11 August. This  is similar to the combination in place on four buildings owned by the City and County of Swansea.  This wall system passed the test, meaning it adequately resisted the spread of fire over the wall to the standard required by the current Building Regulations guidance and which is set out in BR135.

Newport City Homes (NCH) confirmed that tests relating to three tower blocks in Newport had failed. NCH as landlords have been in regular communications with their tenants and have ensured they are kept fully updated on developments.

Tenants have been assured by NCH that a number of fire safety measures are in place. These include smoke and fire alarms in every property and in communal areas, fire-retardant paint and fire doors. The blocks also have two stairwells, and following an inspection, the local fire service has confirmed it is satisfied with those measures. NCH has commenced retro-fitting of sprinklers to its buildings and the work is due to complete by the end of March 2018.

We will continue to work closely with Newport City Homes and will be guided by advice from the DCLG Expert Panel..

Where should tenants worried about their building seek information?

Tenants’ first point of contact should be their landlord or building manager who will be best placed to provide reassurance and information relating to their specific building.

What about checks on other high rise buildings?

Our initial priority is to identify potential issues with residential buildings over 18m high (seven storeys or more).The Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor and Inspector for Wales has confirmed this is the appropriate priority.

The initial focus has been on those residential properties in the social housing sector.

We are now working to identify other residential properties to ensure those living in private sector high rise buildins are equally protected from any unnecessary risks.

What about checks on residential buildings of six storeys or less or under 18 metres?

Standards are different for high-rise buildings because of the increased risk from longer escape times – that is why our priority is on high rise residential buildings.

Landlords of all residential buildings will want to assure themselves and their tenants that all relevant fire safety precautions are in place and that risk assessments are up to date. They can draw on the advice issued by the DCLG on additional precautionary measures (external link) if they wish.

We will continue to monitor the advice of the Expert Panel and recommeations from the Welsh Fire Safety Advisory Group in relation to other buildings in due course but our priority at the current time rightly remains on high-rise.

Should cladding be removed from buildings which fail the BRE test?

We are being guided by advice from the DCLG expert panel, which has commented that in considering whether to remove ACM 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 UK Government Expert Panel confirmed on 30 June it would consider whether the ACM panels currently being tested can be used safely as part of a wider building external wall system, and therefore could remain on a building under certain approved circumstances. The Panel subsequently announced the commissioning of  ‘full system’ tests to inform its thinking further which have now been completed and further guidance has been published (external link).

The Welsh Government has issued guidance for building owners considering carrying out re-cladding on tall buildings.

What about other buildings (hospitals, schools etc)?

We have worked across all Government departments to identify any high-rise buildings which may be at risk. 

It has been confirmed that for all sectors – NHS estate, schools, colleges and independent schools – that no building meeting the priority criteria has been found to have ACM cladding.

What about private sector residential high-rise buildings?

We continue to work with Local Government and other stakeholders to identify all privately-owned residential high-rise buildings in Wales and gather data on the building freeholders or managing agents so that they can be kept informed of guidance, testing requirements and precautionary measures.

Freeholders or managing agents of residential high-rise should ensure they identify and send for testing any ACM, or suspected ACM, cladding material in use on their buildings. They will also want to draw on the DCLG guidance on additional precautionary measures to be taken and review their general fire safety risk assessments, processes and procedures.

Further advice and guidance is also being provided by the bodies representing the managing agents including ARMA and RICS (links below).  We have written out to identified private landlords to update and advise them of necessary actions.

Can private organisations be compelled to get their buildings checked? 

We do not have legal powers to require private owners to check buildings or test cladding but we cannot envisage a situation where a building owner would not wish to ensure the safety of their building and tenants.

Local authorities have certain powers of intervention and enforcement in circumstances where there is a specific hazard. 

What is the Welsh Fire Safety Advisory Group?

The Welsh Fire Safety Advisory Group is chaired by the Welsh Government’s Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, Des Tidbury, and includes the following core members: Steve Thomas – Chief Executive, WLGA, Ruth Marks – Chief Executive, WCVA, Huw Jakeway – Chief Fire Officer, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, David Wilton – Chief Executive, Tenant Participation Advisory Service Cymru, Stuart Ropke – Chief Executive, Community Housing Cymru and Douglas Haig, the Residential Landlords Association’s  vice chairman for Wales. Its aim was to provide advice to the Welsh Government. The Fire Safety Advisory Group was established for an initial three-month period, to 6 October. The Group’s work was extended  for a further three months, after which it will be reassessed. 

Read the Fire Safety Advisory Group’s terms of reference are set out in the Fire Safety Advisory Group’s terms of reference.

The group continues to meet on a weekly basis.

Cladding – other advice to landlords and building owners

We are aware of a British Board of Agrément report identifying concerns with the way wind loading impacts of external wall insulation are being assessed, particularly in tall buildings and have written to building control bodies and competent persons schemes reminding them of the requirements relating to structural safety and the need for vigilance when scrutinising structural calculations. We will liaise with UK Government and consider carefully advice from the Standing Committee on Structural Safety on this matter when it is available to inform our next steps. In the meantime social landlords and building control bodies have been provided with the following advice:

Useful links

Householders Guide to Sprinklers

UK government letter setting out additional safety checks (external link)

UK government explanatory note on safety checks and testing (external link)

Community Housing Cymru (representative body for not-for-profit housing associations and community mutuals in Wales) (external link)

Newport City Homes - Tower blocks safety information for residents (external link)

Association of Residential Managing Agents (external link)

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (external link)