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Grenfell Tower disaster - frequently asked questions

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Carl Sargeant has reiterated that the safety and peace of mind of residents living in tower blocks found to have Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding are his priority.
Carl Sargeant has announced he is setting up an expert group to examine all of the lessons coming out of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and their application to Wales.

Frequently asked questions about the situation in Wales following the Grenfell Tower tragedy (last updated 15:30).

Current position

The Welsh Government continues to work with local authorities, building owners, managers and others to ensure there is a full and accurate picture of high-rise residential building in all parts of Wales and, particularly, those with Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding. 

We have been advised that no school 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.

One building meeting the priority criteria has been identified in the Further Education estate and a sample is being submitted for testing

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. We are currently awaiting sample test results  on two buildings.

We have also written to private sector landlords and, separately, to Welsh Government Sponsored Bodies to clarify the position in those sectors.

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

Will Building Regulations in Wales be Reviewed?

We are liaising with UK Government and the other administrations over action  following the Grenfell tragedy. Clearly, what we already know about the fire poses questions about building regulations for both the UK and Welsh Governments to consider, as building regulations are a devolved matter.
 
We will work with the UK Government and the other devolved administrations to gain a clearer understanding about what UK Government proposes, how it ties in with the public inquiry and how we might be involved.

It is important that any review of building regulations is informed by the outcome or interim findings of the public inquiry but rightly the public expect action and reassurance that our regulations are fit for purpose. We will work with the UK Government to establish where we might progress early action on building regulations.

In any review we will need to bring together the widest range of expertise.

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 and subsequent enquiry and investigation.

In Wales, we already require 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.

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.

A total of 7 social housing high rise blocks have been identified as having ACM cladding and the samples were sent for testing.

Some social landlords are sending samples which do not contain ACM, for tests purely as a precautionary measure.

Results for tests on social housing blocks

Swansea Council confirmed that tests relating to four tower blocks in the city failed the 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.

We will continue to work closely with Swansea on the follow up to these test results to agree a measured and proportionate way forward that has resident safety at its heart.

Newport City Homes (NCH) confirmed that tests relating to three tower blocks in Newport failed the tests. NCH as landlords are in regular communications with their tenants and ensuring 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.

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 are equally protected from any unnecessary risks.

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

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 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 take advice 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 has subsequently announced that it will be commissioning a number of ‘full system’ tests to inform its thinking further.

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

Will there will whole system testing?

We welcome the UK Government’s Expert Panel announcement on 6 July (external link) that whole system testing will take place. These further tests, which will commence shortly, will help 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.

In due course landlords 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 landlords to monitor future announcements from the Expert Group, and the Welsh Fire Safety Advisory Group to inform their future actions.

Can there be any compulsion on private organisations 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 about other buildings (hospitals, schools etc)?

We are working across all Government departments to identify any high rise buildings which may be at risk. We have not been made aware of any buildings which meet the established priority criteria at this point, but are continuing to work with partners to develop a full, accurate picture.

What about private sector residential high-rise buildings?

We are working with Local Government 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 fro 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 begun writing out to identified private landlords to update and advise them of necessary actions.

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.

The group is currently meeting on a weekly basis.

Useful links

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)