LGA Response to MHCLG consultation on banning the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings

LGA Response to MHCLG consultation on banning the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings


Key issues

  • The LGA welcomes the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) consultation on a ban on the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings. The fire at Grenfell Tower in June of last year exposed systemic failures in the building regulation system. Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety made recommendations for the long-term reform of the system to address these failures, but as the consultation points out these will take time to implement.
     
  • Our immediate priority must therefore be to ensure the safety of those who live, work and visit high-rise residential buildings, so that a fire like that at Grenfell Tower never happens again. Evidence emerging from the public inquiry into Grenfell Tower, and earlier fires at Lakanal House and Garnock Court as well as those in other countries such as that in a block in Rouxbaix in France, show that using combustible material on the external walls of high-rise buildings puts people’s lives at risk. The fires in these four blocks resulted in 80 deaths.
     
  • If we are to put people’s lives first we must take the lowest risk approach. Allowing the continued use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise buildings means taking a risk with the lives of those who live, work and visit them. The safer approach is to only use non-combustible materials – an approach that the consultation notes Dame Judith Hackitt has indicated is a lower risk option than continuing to allow the use of combustible materials. We also believe the ban should be extended to cover all buildings where vulnerable people sleep.
     
  • The LGA therefore supports the proposed ban on the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise buildings, as the presence of flammable cladding and insulation unnecessarily increases the risk of a serious fire and the severity of that fire. Allowing combustible materials on the side of buildings is always a compromise on safety where – as is the case with cladding and insulation systems - there is a non-combustible alternative. In light of the Grenfell disaster, we do not believe there should be scope for such compromises.
     
  • Moreover, a ban on combustible materials would provide clarity for councils with regards to which materials they can use in the remediation work and any future refurbishment of their own buildings, as well as work on private high-rise residential buildings. In the latter case, councils are the enforcing authority under the Housing Act 2004, and fire authorities – whom the LGA also represents – have a responsibility under the Fire Safety Order. Both of these enforcing bodies have an urgent need for clarity.

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