This week, SKY News aired a half hour documentary on Britain's Fire Safety Crisis, questioning the safety of all plastic insulation and cladding on high rise blocks; while revealing how combustible materials were used on buildings because it was cheap; how building regulations failed through privatisation; and how scientists and fire experts' had been "routinely silenced" while trying to give warnings.*
"There will be buildings that are unsafe and that must be a worry for people who are falling asleep in them" construction expert Simon Hay told the documentary. Hay sat on the Government committee set up by the Department For Energy and Climate Change in 2011 to look into poorly insulated homes.
The committee, stated the documentary, was stuffed with representatives from insulation companies, some of which were also members of BRUFMA, a plastic insulation lobby group. One company manager, Rob Warren of Celotex, revealed in a now-deleted document that he was "working inside government ...enabling the insulation industry to maximise the benefits..."
Celotex insulation was subsequently fitted on Grenfell Tower, and the documentary explained that the panels and insulation of Grenfell Tower were "thought to contain as much fuel as 30,000 litres of petrol..."
The SKY documentary headed to Pendleton with the reporter stating "These flats in Salford had plastic foam insulation and exactly the same plastic filled cladding panels fitted to Grenfell Tower, and the whole system here was signed off by Salford Council's semi-privatised building inspectors."
He added that the Council was now spending millions of pounds trying to make the blocks safe with foil tape around the plastic insulation and cement based panels... "But any plastic foam insulation is only as fireproof as the materials used to keep heat and flames away" he explained "If fire can get to the plastic...it can burn...It should never have been there..."
Last week, perhaps with knowledge of the upcoming documentary, Salford Council put out a statement that "following improvements to the emergency lighting systems; further safety work is being carried out to each block to make the corridors and common areas safer including the replacement of some communal doors to comply with the most recent Fire Risk Assessments." It added that plans for further work would not be communicated until 'early in the new year'.
City West Housing Trust recently announced plans to fit sprinkler systems at all of its twelve high-rise blocks in Eccles. However, the documentary questioned whether any building with plastic combustible materials is safe...
"It is far from clear whether anyone is asking why, with so little debate, so much material that burns is still being added to Britain's buildings..." the documentary concluded.
In the Salford Council statement John Merry, Deputy Mayor, promised to "make these blocks as safe as possible..." Yet much of the original cladding and insulation is still on the nine Pendleton blocks that the Council owns.
Salix Homes, which owns seven blocks that failed fire safety tests, hasn't updated its website on the issue since August, and residents have been told nothing will be happening with the cladding until next year. One Salix resident of a high rise block, currently living with cladding on the outside of their flat that has failed fire safety tests, is looking to sue the company for stress, the Salford Star understands.
Meanwhile, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the Salford Star related to the cladding of the Pendleton blocks continue to be refused or ignored. A request for emails from June between the Council housing lead member and Pendleton Together in the wake of the Grenfell disaster has had no response since October, when we were told that the Council would "be in touch shortly with a progress update"...
A further request under the Freedom of Information Act for documents from Salford Council's Building Control department and building inspectors for cladding work on Thorn Court, Spruce Court and Whitebeam Court has now been refused outright, as it is "not to be in the best interests of the public".
Salford Council dealt with the request under its Environmental Information Regulations, rather than FOI, and stated: "The Council fully recognises that these are very high profile issues and that there is a substantial public interest in maximum openness in relation to matters of public safety...However the Council considers the public interest in maintaining the exceptions in relation to this particular material outweighs the public interest in disclosure..."
It added that the information "includes communications with the Contractor that are currently under review in relation to the PFI contractor's compliance with Building Regulations and the ability of the contractor to carry out the remediation work. This includes information about the products used and the manufacturer's datasheets provided by the Contractor as part of the Building Regulations approval process along with architect's drawings with regards to the cladding and insulation system.
"We believe that disclosure of this information would impede the Council's ability to ensure building regulations are complied with and may fetter the Council's ability to reach acceptable settlements with contractors to ensure the safety of residents" it explained.
"The Council needs to be able to make clear decisions and obtain advice. Disclosure would harm the way the organisation does this and may stop the Council being able to fulfil its statutory duty in relation to enforcement" it added "It is important that the Council is able to recoup any financial losses from any contractors and ensure remediation work and further work is carried out to the proper standard for the public..."
The Salford Star doesn't quite understand how transparency of the process would get in the way of this. Indeed, none of the Council-commissioned reports into the cladding have been made public, apart from the Government fire safety test results, despite initial promises that they would be.
The whole issue goes on and off the Council agenda, depending on how many tv cameras are in town...and meanwhile, as Simon Hay said in the SKY News documentary, "There will be buildings that are unsafe and that must be a worry for people who are falling asleep in them..."
See the full SKY documentary: Britain's Fire Safety Crisis – click here
See also previous related Salford Star articles...
Salford Council Set To Borrow £25million To Make Tower Blocks Safe – click here
Salford Tower Block Cladding Similar To London Fire Materials – click here
Salford Tower Blocks Have Same Insulation As Grenfell Tower – click here
The Nightmare of Salford Tower Block Residents Post Grenfell – click here
There are a further 30 articles on Salford's cladding crisis on the Salford Star website. To see them all just put the word cladding into the Search box on the top right hand corner of the front page of the site.