Grenfell fire: Cladding faces large-scale fire tests

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Cladding samples that have failed safety tests in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire will be subjected to further “large-scale” testing.

Experts will fix a complete cladding system to a 30ft-high (9m) demonstration wall and subject it to “a severe fire”, the government said.

It comes after 190 samples out of 191 failed initial combustibility tests.

Local Government Association chairman Lord Porter welcomed the “much-needed changes” to the process.

Urgent tests were ordered on cladding from about 600 towers blocks in England after the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed at least 80 people, on 14 June.

However, questions have since been asked about the nature of the process after all but one test resulted in a failure.

The independent expert panel on safety has now said further testing will be carried out “as the next step”.

So far, tests have covered only the plastic “core” on panels similar to those used on Grenfell Tower.

The new process will subject a demonstration wall to a “severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window” and aim to establish whether it will then spread up the outside wall.

It will also assess how different types of aluminium composite material (ACM) panels behave with different types of insulation in a fire, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said.

ACM in the cladding is thought to have been a factor in the rapid spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower, in west London.

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The results will help landlords decide on further actions they may need to take to ensure buildings are safe, the DCLG added.

The Local Government Association – which had called for the tests to be changed – said the new testing “needs to be undertaken urgently”.

“We have been clear all along that entire cladding panels and the insulation behind them need to be fire tested together as a system, rather than just the core of the panels on their own,” Lord Porter added.

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The Fire Industry Association, a trade association with more than 700 UK members, said it applauded the decision to carry out the fire tests.

Testing so far had simply focused on the combustibility of the core material in the cladding, it said, adding that the new tests would determine whether cladding would “actually perform well in a real fire”.

“This will better inform decisions by landlords, housing associations and others regarding cladding systems that are currently in place in high-rise buildings.”

However, one social housing provider said it had halted work to remove cladding from eight tower blocks in Salford, Greater Manchester, saying government advice was now “unclear”.

In a statement that suggested other providers had followed suit, Sue Sutton, from Salix Homes, said: “In line with other housing providers in Salford and across the country, we’ve now halted the removal of further cladding until we have clearer guidance from the authorities.”

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