Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Grenfell - A lesson learned too late? No!

Following the Grenfell Tower, 60 high-rise buildings in 25 local authorities in England have failed fire safety tests so far. But no local authority or housing association tower blocks in Scotland have been found to use the same kind of cladding. In Scotland, a change to building regulations in 2005 made it mandatory for builders to ensure that any external cladding "inhibited" fire spreading. The new regulations were introduced following a fatal fire in a Scottish tower block in 1999. The Building (Scotland) Act 2003 introduced the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004 which came into force on 1 May 2005. It contains the mandatory regulation: "Every building must be designed and constructed in such a way that in the event of an outbreak of fire within the building, or from an external source, the spread of fire on the external walls of the building is inhibited."
On Friday 11 June 1999, a fire swept through a 14-storey block of flats in North Ayrshire. The blaze started at about 12:45 and ended up destroying flats on nine floors of the Garnock Court block in Irvine. A 55-year-old man died in the fire and five other people, including a 15-month-old child, were injured. Witnesses reported that a vertical ribbon of cladding on one corner of the block was quickly ablaze and the fire reached the 12th floor within 10 minutes of it starting. 
The flats were owned by North Ayrshire Council, who ordered the removal of plastic cladding and PVC window frames as a precaution "at whatever cost" so they could be replaced with safer materials. The chief executive here [North Ayrshire Council] and also the MSPs by that time were in a position to, and did, enforce change in Scotland. Which is why no properties in Scotland that have been identified as being failures in that respect. 
The then local MP, Brian Donohoe pushed for a parliamentary inquiry into the extent of the problem. The review - by the select committee on environment, transport and regional affairs - was set up quickly and reported back in January 2000Committee members recommended that local authorities and registered social landlords reviewed their existing building stock and the cladding systems used. MPs also said they wanted to make it clear that any addition to the outside of a building which had the "potential to lessen its resistance to external fire spread" should be subject to building regulations.
Donohoe added that a series of UK governments had been "remiss in their responsibilities and their duties" to people who lived in high-rise properties in England. "The problem was indentified but nothing was being done. It's really a disaster that has been created as a consequence of inaction of all government."
In the Scottish Parliament, Communities Secretary Angela Constance also cited the Irvine fire directly as the reason why cladding used on high-rise buildings in Scotland must use materials and design which resist the spread of fire.


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