New concerns raised over 'cladding lottery' after Bolton fire

A major fire that swept through a block of student flats in Bolton last week raises fresh concerns over the 'cladding lottery' that still faces housing block-residents across the UK.

The Cube, a six-storey student accommodation building, caught ablaze on Friday 15 November, with videos showing the fire spreading quickly across the façade. Two people were injured.

Planning records showed the building was converted from offices to student rooms back in 2015. 

The fire brigade has stressed that the type of cladding used on the block was not the same as the aluminium composite cladding (ACC) used on Grenfell Tower.

Paul Dennett, the mayor of Salford, told ITV that the cladding used on the block was high-pressure laminate (HPL). He said: "Needless to say, at the moment we have a bit of a cladding lottery. Government has made resources available for ACM. This is high-pressure laminate. So we will be asking government for more funds and more money to really deal with what is an industrial crisis the UK are facing at the moment in terms of cladding on buildings."

Experts have issued warnings over the fire risks of HPL, which is made by layering sheets of wood or paper fibre with resin. In July the government issued a fire risk notice advising that, when combined with combustible insultation, most HPL panels were unlikely to resist the spread of a blaze.

The fire took place in the lower of two buildings that make up The Cube. The fire brigade confirmed that the building that caught fire is recorded as being under 18m and, therefore, 'not classified as a high rise building'. This means it would not be covered by the government's ban on combustibles which only applies to buildings over 18m. 

The fire service said a full investigation will be carried out to establish the cause of the fire as well as the effect that the cladding had in its spread. In a statement, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) said that after Grenfell, it requested the fire risk assessment for The Cube was reviewed and the materials used in the external wall system identified and assessed. This assessment was shared with GMFRS and in 2018, 'subsequent work was undertaken to both buildings by the building owners'.

The Cube is managed by Urban Student Life (USL) for landlord Idealsite. In a statement, the USL said it was 'not responsible for the construction of or subsequent amendments to the construction of the Cube buildings'.

A Ministry of Housing spokesperson said that public safety was its 'utmost priority’ and further test results would be published later next summer. They added: "We’re very clear: no buildings in this country should have the combination of HPL cladding and combustible insulation. Building owners are legally responsible for ensuring the safety of their buildings and they must ensure this is the case."

Source: Architects' Journal
Photo: BBC News

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