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Restrictions on desktop fire safety studies considered

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The government is considering restricting the use of desktop studies on the fire safety of external cladding applied to buildings.

Improvements to building safety standards are being looked at following recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt as part of her review into building regulations and fire safety.

Her interim report, published last year, said: “The government should significantly restrict the use of desktop studies to approve changes to cladding and other systems to ensure that they are only used where appropriate and with sufficient, relevant test evidence.”

A consultation launched today by housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid acknowledges the fact that “since the fire at Grenfell Tower, some assessments of cladding systems, often described as ‘desktop studies’ have been criticised for their lack of reference to supporting” fire safety test data.

While Mr Javid said the government is considering banning the use of desktop studies, the consultation outlines only two options: one is “to do nothing” and the other is to “issue amendments” which will restrict the use of desktop studies.

The consultation seeks views on whether desktop studies are appropriate for all construction products, wall systems (cladding) or for any other purpose. If desktop studies are considered to be appropriate, the proposed changes include improving the transparency of assessments, enabling proper scrutiny of results, and ensuring that the studies can only be carried out by properly accredited bodies that have the relevant expertise.

Mr Javid said: “We have listened carefully to Dame Judith Hackitt and we are taking action to strengthen building regulations guidance, which could mean that the use of ‘desktop studies’ are either significantly restricted or banned altogether.

“This demonstrates the tough measures we are prepared to take to make sure that cladding tests are as robust as possible and people are safe in their homes.”

Responding Local Government Association chair Lord Porter (Con) said: “We have consistently said that desktop studies cannot substitute for real-world tests of cladding systems – including in our evidence to the Hackitt Review. We urge the government to hold firm against industry pressure that seeks to allow their continued use.

“What happened at Grenfell Tower can never be allowed to happen again and no one should have to live in fear about their safety, be that in the buildings they live in, work in or visit.”

Lord Porter said although “councils will continue to get on with what they need to do and are ready to play a leading role in making sure a new system of building regulation works, significant funding concerns remain.” He added: “The government needs to meet the unexpected exceptional costs for councils arising from conducting fire safety and major remedial work and for any essential fire and safety measures needed.”

The deadline for consultation responses is 25 May.

This story was updated at 14.34 on 11 April to include Lord Porter’s comments.

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