By the Timber Trade Federation UK
The UK Government is conducting a review of its current regulation on combustible materials in and on external walls. It is vital that this review does not bring unintended consequences to limit the growth of sustainable timber construction.
Almost two years ago, the UK Government conducted a consultation regarding the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of buildings over 18 metres in height. This focused mainly on the role of cladding and preventing the spread of fire over large surfaces in light of the disaster at Grenfell. In many people’s minds it became known as the ‘combustible cladding’ ban.
Both then and now, we continue to support the efforts of government to make buildings safer. However, we believe that safer buildings in the long term will only come through an evidence-based approach.
One of the key points we raised at the time was the need to differentiate between the external cladding and the structural elements of walls. If the government does want to make buildings safer this distinction is essential.
Amidst the political clamour for a ban, these calls were disregarded when they were first made, and we have since seen a significant impact on the use of cross laminated timber (CLT) and mass timber as structural elements.
Now the Government looks set to repeat the mistakes of the past by extending this ban down to buildings of 11 metres in height. Unless we work together now to act and respond to the recently announced review of the combustible materials legislation, there will be serious business and environmental consequences.
A ban down to 11 metres, which includes the structural walls of buildings, will impact the use of wood and wood-based products in ways counterproductive to achieving Government targets on housing, climate change, and sustainability, without giving clarity or making buildings safer.
We are concerned that because the current approach on combustible materials does not differentiate between the external cladding and the structural wall itself it will not provide the clarity called for in the Hackitt Review.
Any extension of a ban on combustible materials from 18 metres currently, down to 11 metres, should focus on the external cladding, not the structural wall itself.
The best way that the Government could achieve a safer building system is by introducing mandatory, comprehensive fire-risk assessments during the design process for buildings such as high-rises, community centres and schools.