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Why aren't we talking about insulation?

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LGC’s essential daily commentary 

Tower blocks in at least 12 council areas have now had or are to have aluminium composite cladding removed after samples failed government testing.

This number is likely to rise as more of the 95 blocks in 32 affected areas are named.

LGC’s interactive map shows the areas affected and details of the action being taken by councils and registered social landlords across the country. For the majority for which we have details so far, the standard response seems to be to make plans to remove the cladding as soon as possible and employ 24/7 patrols to ensure safety in the meantime.

Most councils are also conducting full fire safety checks of affected buildings and some are testing fire safety in individual flats but there have been no further plans to evacuate residents from buildings following Camden LBC’s decision to do so.

But is the rush to remove the cladding really necessary? A number of councils, including Wandsworth LBC, have reported that previous fires within affected blocks have been contained within the home in which it started, suggesting other fire safety measures have proved effective. Many providers point out that they have used a much safer form of insulation than that used in Grenfell.

In its statement on its actions Plymouth Community Homes chief executive John Clark noted that despite cladding on three of its tower blocks having failed the test, the Rockwool insulation that makes up the inner layer of the cladding is not combustible but this had not formed part of the government’s test. Nevertheless, the housing association is removing the cladding.

During a debate on the issue in the Commons yesterday evening, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper (Lab) questioned whether insulation materials should also be tested, citing the “serious concerns” of the police and the fire service about its role in spreading the fire at Grenfell Tower.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid’s less than satisfactory response was that the government was “looking at what is the best way to respond and to ensure that insulation is also looked at properly”.

Octavia Housing is one of the few housing providers to state that it will not be removing the cladding from the tower block in Brent LBC where cladding failed the test immediately, saying it had received advice from the fire brigade that additional safety measures, including sprinklers in each flat, meant the building is safe. However, the organisation is “investigating how cladding can be swiftly replaced in a proper and managed replacement programme in the near future”.

With emotions running high and the shocking images of Grenfell still far too vivid in the memory, it’s understandable that councils and other landlords do not want to take any chances, either real or perceived.

But there is a danger that in a rush to demonstrate that something – anything – is being done, false reassurance is provided. Now more than ever, it’s important that the approach remains rational.


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