Concern about other material left exposed after cladding panels’ removal

Removing cladding panels for safety checks could increase the building’s fire risk, the government has warned.

Since the Grenfell fire a month ago, cladding on hundreds of high rises across the UK has been taken down for fire safety assessments.

But in a circular letter to building owners, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) cautioned that taking down cladding panels could leave other material exposed, reducing a building’s fire performance.

The DCLG letter said: “In assessing the safety of the cladding system it may be necessary to remove isolated panels either to reveal the construction build up or for testing purposes. In doing so, care should be taken not to create conditions which may worsen the integrity of the cladding system. This could include exposing insulation or other materials to rain which can affect structural integrity and water tightness, or leaving material exposed which could reduce fire performance.

“Where sample panels are removed, they should be replaced immediately with a suitable material which ensures continued compliance with all the applicable Parts of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations, including Approved Document B guidance.”

The DCLG also warned building owners to be careful about “using replacement cladding [which] may be heavier than the existing system”, and to check the integrity of the panels’ fixing system, including resistance to wind loads.

However, the government has been criticised about issuing “conflicting advice”.

Paul Dennett, mayor of Salford City, where cladding samples on nine Pendleton tower blocks failed fire safety tests, said: “The government’s handling of this whole matter is a disgrace.

“Councils are being left to make decisions about complex technical matters amid unclear government guidance, conflicting advice and information which changes by the hour. Work is continuing to progress the removal of the panels at the Pendleton tower blocks in a safe and timely manner and technical advisers for us and Pendleton Together are investigating appropriate replacement solutions.”