Grenfell cladding suppliers ignored results of safety test

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Cladding used on Grenfell was ten times more flammable than an alternative product that could have been used, an inquiry heard yesterday.

The supplier had known about the properties of the combustible cladding but failed to tell Kensington and Chelsea borough which funded the tower’s refurbishment.

The testing had been conducted on two types of ‘Reynobond PE 55’ cladding in 2004 in France. One was bent into a "cassette" form and the other was a flat “riveted” panel.

Seventy-two people perished in the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June, 2017. Photograph: Natalie Oxford / Wikimedia

There was a marked difference in fire performance in the cassette cladding; large panels with "box" folded sides.

When shaped in this way, the product burned 10 times faster and released seven times as much heat and three times as much smoke, the inquiry sitting on 16 February was told. The results of the test was not shared with Kensington and Chelsea.

Claude Schmidt president of AAP SAS (the French arm of cladding company Arconic), which sold the panels, denied that the test – known as 5B – was the company’s "deadly secret." He said: “The product that was sold was not dangerous in itself,” adding “it did have some risks which were dealt with differently in different countries.”

Financial misery

Alongside the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster in which seventy-two perished in the fire on 14 June, 2017, the government has attempted to help homeowners facing financial penalties due to unsafe cladding still on their homes.

On 10 February, the government announced a £3.5 billion fund for the removal of unsafe cladding on buildings over 18m.

However, residents say that they will still have to pay for other fire safety-related improvements and the fund also excludes blocks under 18m.

Recladding works on a building in Stratford. Government funds will not cover works on buildings lower than 18m. Photograph: iStock

Labour's shadow housing secretary, Thangam Debbonaire, said the proposals would "pile financial misery" on many home owners whose properties remain "unsellable". She said the "arbitrary 18m-height limit" could "mean the difference between a safe home and financial ruin.”

Shortage of qualified cladding experts

Nearly all the UK’s major banks and building societies are refusing to lend on properties until specific checks on cladding have been carried out, according to a report in Inside Housing.

Thousands of low-rise buildings have some form of cladding (although government does not collect the data) and these now require an EWS1 (External Wall Fire Review) before banks can lend mortgages.

However, there thought to be only 300 surveyors qualified to do this work, causing huge delays in surveys and homeowners feeling trapped and uncertain of the costs they face.

Commenting on the government funding, the British Safety Council said it was was concerning that the scheme did not provide financial support to people whose buildings have fire safety issues for reasons other than cladding, such as balconies on a building that have been built with flammable material.

“While the announcement will provide some reassurance to residents of high-rise properties, more pace must now be injected into this work,” said Mike Robinson, CEO.

Full response from the British Safety Council here

Watch hearings from the Grenfell Tower inquiry here


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