A DETR spokesperson confirmed that the regulations, covered in Approved Document B of the Building Regulations, were under review, and that a change was being considered after evidence was presented to a parliamentary select committee last week.
The spokesman said: “There is an acceptance that there is a problem, and we are reviewing the regulations with a view to upgrading them.” The spokesman said the government had initiated a review of Document B before the fire, but said it would now seek further improvements in the light of evidence presented to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee on 20 July.
The committee’s environment subcommittee asked construction minister Nick Raynsford and DETR officials to give evidence on cladding regulations after the blaze at a 14-storey tower block at Irvine, Ayrshire, which killed a pensioner.
A senior figure on the committee told Building: “All I can say, after hearing all the evidence, is that it is clear that someone needs to take a serious look at the regulations.” The source said one of the main areas of concern was the cavity between the cladding and the concrete, or other material, behind it. This created an air channel that contributed to the rapid upward spread of fire.
“All the current regulations embrace fire spreading to adjacent buildings, not its upward spread.
The whole question of standards needs to be looked at now. The reason for the [spread of] fire [in Ayrshire] was the panelling around the window and the window itself,” the source said.
The window and cladding system used at the tower block in Ayrshire is widely used in the refurbishment of older residential tower blocks throughout the UK, but the Fire Brigades Union, which also gave evidence to the committee, has condemned the system.
Mick Shergold, London regional chair of the FBU, said: “We have consistently raised concerns about fire spread in buildings with this type of cladding. The current regulations for this type of cladding are simply inadequate.” Shergold said cladding designers should build a fire-resistant expansion joint into systems that would allow adequate ventilation between the cladding and the structure, but prevent the upward spread of fire in an emergency.
Witnesses said the Irvine fire spread rapidly from the fifth floor of the block to all the floors above. The tower block is more than 30 years old but was refurbished in the mid-1980s, with new windows and a facia panel that linked all the windows on one side of the block installed.
A spokesperson for North Ayrshire Council, which owns the block, said it intended to remove the window and cladding system from other blocks on the estate because of public fears about safety.
The fire broke out at around midday. A local fire fighter said that, had it occurred at night, the fire would have resulted in many more fatalities.
Another committee source said the government was considering whether the Building Regulations should be applied retrospectively to buildings, something the DETR denied would happen.
The source said: “On any cladding with a cavity, upward fire spread is an issue; even if the regulations are changed, it will still leave a whole pool of older buildings that the regulation won’t apply to.” The government will publish the evidence presented to the select committee next week and will issue a report with its recommendations in the autumn when parliament resumes sitting after the summer holiday.