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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 10:00).

Recent Developments

Fire doors

What were the circumstances around a fire door failing recent tests

As part of the Grenfell investigation, the Metropolitan Police had a fire door from a flat at Grenfell Tower tested for combustibility. The results appeared to demonstrate that it did not resist fire for 30 minutes and so did not comply with building regulations.

Does this test affect the advice to building owners

The Expert Panel on Fire Safety has considered the test findings (external link) and whether any action is required. Their advice is that the risk to public safety remains low and that the fire safety advice remains unchanged (external link).

We will continue to ensure that building owners, landlords and people living in high rise buildings get the most up-to-date safety information available.

I have a fire door on my flat – am I at risk

In line with Expert Panel assessments, there is no evidence to suggest there is an increased risk to public safety. Further tests are being carried out at this time and residents should continue to act in line with their building’s fire plan.

What should I do if I am worried about my fire door

If you are worried about any aspect of fire safety in your building you should contact your landlord/owner/responsible person in the first instance.

Hackitt Report

What is the Welsh Government’s response to the ‘Hackitt Report’

The Minister for Housing and Regeneration announced the Welsh Government’s response on 23 May via a Written Ministerial Statement

Subject to a legally-required consultation into this matter, we will move to ban the use of combustible materials in cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings in Wales.

Dame Judith’s recommendations must be considered in our own context and apply the principles to our proposals for a new, robust system in Wales. 

The First Minister has therefore asked the Minister for Housing and Regeneration to chair an expert group to develop those recommendations into workable law, policy and practice changes for Wales. 

The Minister hopes to complete this work, and to bring forward detailed proposals, by the end of the year.

Where can I access the ‘Hackitt Report’

The Welsh Government welcomed the publication of the final report of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety (external link) on May 17 2018. 

Rebecca Evans AM, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration, issued a Written Ministerial Statement, setting out the Welsh Government’s initial reaction.

Is this a Wales and England report

No, strictly speaking the report only applies to England. It was commissioned by and makes recommendations for the UK Government relating to England. However, the context in Wales is very similar to that in England. We welcome the report and recognise that it provides a useful, detailed reference point for the Welsh response to making our high-rise residential buildings safer.

Will combustible building materials be banned in Wales

Dame Judith sets out in her report a clear rationale for not recommending a specific ‘ban’ on combustible materials. We will consider carefully her rationale and proposed alternative approach to ensuring such material cannot be used inappropriately in the future to inform our decision on this point for buildings in Wales.

The Welsh Government’s first priority is resident safety. The response to Dame Judith’s report and more broadly will reflect the best interests and, ultimately, safety and well-being of the people of Wales.

Will you now be focusing only on residential buildings which are more than 10 storeys / 30 metres tall

No. We have worked with partners to establish a clear understanding of the situation in Wales: the number of residential buildings here of a particular height - 18 metres or more - and those with different types of ACM cladding. We will continue to work on that basis. Our expectation remains that non-compliant ACM materials on residential high-rise of 18 meters or more must be removed.

Dame Judith’s report does not change the situation with regard to use of certain types of ACM on buildings of 18 meters or more. It proposes an additional level of scrutiny for buildings over 30 meters. We will be considering carefully the implications of Dame Judith’s recommendations.

How will you let us know what’s happening

This is a wide-ranging, detailed report. We will now consider it in detail and publish our in-depth response and analysis – effectively, how we will apply the learning in Wales – as soon as practicable.

The Prime Minister announced £400m to fund the removal of dangerous cladding from tower blocks by councils and housing associations. What about Wales

There are three social housing blocks in Wales which failed the cladding tests at Newport City Homes. The Minister for Housing and Regeneration announced in a Written Ministerial Statement on 22 May that £3 million capital funding will be made available to enable Newport City Homes to replace the cladding on their three blocks.
 

Non-ACM cladding

What are the recent issues with social housing blocks in Cardiff

After proactively taking expert advice, Cardiff County Council has concluded that six of their high-rise social housing buildings - which have non-ACM cladding – require remedial work to address fire safety concerns.

The Council has worked closely with the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service to put in place interim safety measures, including a 24-hour waking watch, whilst it develops and implements longer-term solutions.

The buildings’ residents have been kept informed and Cardiff County Council has organised face-to-face sessions.

The Welsh Government welcomes as correct and responsible, Cardiff’s decision to undertake further detailed fire risk assessments on its high-rise buildings in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.

Should other owners seek similar assessments on buildings with non-ACM cladding

Cardiff’s actions are wholly in line with MHCLG Advice Note 14 (external link) about buildings with non-ACM cladding.

The advice note is clear that:

“The potential that there may be incorrectly specified or substituted [non-ACM] products installed on tall buildings should not be ignored. Building owners will want to satisfy themselves and their residents that buildings are safe…”

Owners should, therefore, seek professional advice, “where there is any uncertainty about the fire safety of their external wall systems.”

What does this mean for other buildings with similar cladding to that used on these buildings

Every high-rise building is different so it is not simply about looking at what cladding is used on a building, but about the whole external system in the context of the individual building.

Cardiff CC has taken professional advice to look at the specific circumstances of its buildings.  The experts’ view, having taken account of a number of factors, is that remedial work is required to address fire safety concerns..

As per the guidance, other owners should satisfy themselves that their residents are safe and, if they are satisfied, should commission professional advice to establish whether a building meets fire safety standards.

July 2017 - Building Identification

The Welsh Government has worked with local authorities, building owners, managers, both the private and third sectors and others to gather a full and accurate picture of high-rise residential buildings, and/or those with a ‘sleeping risk’  in all parts of Wales and, particularly, those with Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding.

Educational and Health Buildings

We have been advised that no school, Further or Higher 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.

Private Residential Buildings

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.

Social Housing

There are 38 tower blocks of seven storeys or more owned by social landlords in Wales (Local Authorities or Housing Associations).  7 social housing high-rise blocks were identified as having ACM cladding and the samples were sent for testing.

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 MHCLG 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 recently completed retro-fitting of sprinklers to its buildings. 

Read the different criteria for ‘in-scope’ buildings

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

July 2017

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 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 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.

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

This guidance was revised on 28 February 2018 to reflect the results of recent tests.

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 (external link) (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.

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

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

In Wales, we have already required, since 2016, 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.

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 confirmed this as the appropriate priority.

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

We have worked to identify all other residential properties to ensure those living in private sector high-rise buildings are equally protected from any unnecessary risks.

What about high-rise buildings that do not incorporate ACM cladding

The potential that there may be incorrectly specified or substituted products installed on tall buildings should not be ignored. Building owners will want to satisfy themselves and their residents that buildings are safe.  Building owners should seek professional advice on any further action, reflecting their building’s particular circumstances. Please see the MHCLG advice note (external link) for further details.

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 MHCLG 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 MHCLG 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.

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 was chaired by the Welsh Government’s Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, Des Tidbury, and included 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 engaged with a number of owners, agents and tenants in producing a guide to Resident Engagement Principles for Good Practice. The document, which should be read alongside statutory responsibilities, provides advice on ensuring there is good, effective communication between building owners/managers and residents.

Read the Fire Safety Advisory Group’s terms of reference.

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:

Assessments of external wall cladding systems

Building control bodies should look for clear evidence of the classification of materials used, to meet the definitions in Table A7 of Appendix A; or clear evidence of the results of tests carried out in accordance with BS 8414. Test results must be relevant and appropriate for the proposed external wall construction. Building control bodies should not accept proposals which lack such evidence.

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)