Warning against combustible insulation ban

A government consultation has begun on banning combustible cladding systems from new high rise flats after what ministers describe as an “unlawful” combination of products on Grenfell Tower helped spread a fire in June 2017 which killed 72 people.

Housing secretary James Brokenshire said a ban would help “concerned residents” and the construction industry.

But Kingspan, which made the Kooltherm K15 insulation that was fitted to parts of Grenfell Tower, said a ban would not guarantee better fire safety.

Tony Ryan, Kingspan’s head of fire engineering services, was speaking at the Tall Buildings Fire Safety Conference at the Firex exhibition in London.

In a presentation to fire safety professionals he talked about the potential consequences of a ban on combustible materials for buildings with a floor over 18m.

Among his 10 points were “worry and concern” for people living in “a huge amount of non compliant buildings” fitted with combustible insulation.

He said Kingspan believes the cost of a ban would be “considerable” and would lead to “legal cases for people living and working in non compliant buildings”.

He also said the ban could leave people potentially unable to afford to heat or insulate their home.

Several other speakers at the event argued in favour of a ban, with the Fire Protection Agency (FPA), an insurance industry research and lobby group, calling for it to be extended to all tall buildings, including hospitals and schools.

Jon O’Neill, the FPA’s managing director, said a ban on using combustible insulation and cladding on new tall buildings would lead to it being removed everywhere.

“It would make it very, very difficult for existing building owners to justify that remaining,” he said.

Dr Jim Glockling, FPA technical director, told the conference a total ban “would be fantastic in our eyes”.

The conference also heard claims that the combustible polyethylene-filled (PE) cladding panels that were fitted to the outside of Grenfell Tower should be banned from the UK entirely.

Despite being removed from hundreds of tower blocks in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, they are still permitted on countless buildings including shops, hotels, offices, hospitals and schools.

Merlyn Forrer, fire protection manager at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, told the conference that the panels should be treated like asbestos and banned entirely.

“Speaking personally, I don’t believe PE panels should be on buildings. I wouldn’t put them on a bungalow,” he said.

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