New Clause 23 - Review of use of combustible materials

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 26th October 2021.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must conduct a review on the use of combustible materials on external walls of buildings.

(2) The review set out in subsection (1) must include an assessment on whether the ban on the use of combustible materials on the external walls of buildings should be extended in scope with regard to—

(a) the types of materials used;

(b) the height threshold of buildings included; and

(c) the type of buildings included

(3) A report setting out the conclusions of the review must be laid before each House of Parliament no later than 6 months after the day on which this Act is passed.”—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:30 pm, 26th October 2021

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 23 would ensure that the Government publish a review, which they have yet to do, on the use of combustible materials and whether the scope of the current ban should be extended to other materials that are not covered at present; on whether the ban should be extended to a greater number of buildings, by lowering the height; and on the types of buildings included.

Of course, the Government have already commissioned a public consultation on the use of combustible materials on external walls of buildings. It was announced in June 2018, it opened in January 2020 and it closed five months later, but the outcome and Government response have yet to be published. The Government have introduced this Bill, which centres on building safety and seeks to define high risk, before it is clear exactly what the Government will consider to be unsafe cladding.

The Government consultation centred on other aspects, and the new clause raises other aspects, but again we come back to the problem of 18 metres. The scoping document for the consultation states:

“We consider that buildings with a residential use between 11-18m may be subject to similar levels of fire risk to many of those taller than 18m.”

The document states that in the absence of “robust scientific evidence” to support that,

“the best option…is to reduce the height threshold to 11m now”.

Is that still the Government’s opinion? The consultation proposes that that should only apply to buildings going forward. Given the caution we have seen in the market in response to the changes in previous Government guidance, I understand that that could very well have further implications for existing buildings, but the alternative is to continue to allow new buildings to go up with materials that may be unsafe.

It is not acceptable that in the middle of a cladding crisis, the Government still have not published the outcome of the consultation after 18 months, when the consultation itself closed three and a half years after the Grenfell fire. It is not acceptable that, as reported earlier this year, around 70 schools and 25 hospitals and care homes have been constructed with combustible cladding since Grenfell. I urge the Minister to accept the new clause and publish such a review.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The Committee should know that the level of risk in buildings is proportionate to their height. That has been reported to us here and in other forums, and it is well understood, so it is appropriate to focus the strict ban on high-rise buildings.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that his new clause, and the intention behind it, is being met by the Government. The Government have already amended the building regulations to ban the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of new tall buildings in the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018—SI No. 1230. Combustible materials are not permitted on the external walls of new buildings over 18 metres containing dwellings, or on new hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools and student accommodation over 18 metres in height. We have restricted the use of materials in the external walls and specified attachments of those buildings to those achieving the top two “reaction to fire” classifications.

We are already committed to reviewing the ban annually through advice from bodies such as the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, as made clear in the explanatory memorandum published alongside the amendment made to the building regulations to ban the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of buildings.

As the hon. Gentleman has identified, a review was conducted in 2019 and the Government subsequently published in January 2020 a consultation on proposed changes to the ban. The consultation included proposals to amend the scope, using a height threshold and the buildings covered. The consultation received, I think, 850 responses. We continue to analyse those responses to ensure that we achieve the right and proper, and best, outcome. I am entirely determined to make sure that that happens as rapidly as possible, and certainly to make sure that we respond effectively to that consultation. With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Minister for his response. In terms of publication, can he put a date on that?

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

In the spirit of collaboration, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.