Braithwaite House cladding comes down… now the questions begin
SPECIAL REPORT: Grenfell Tower blaze has raised concerns about blocks across Islington, but why did it take a tragedy for checks to be made?
30 June, 2017 — By Koos Couvée
Tenant Christine Byrne
QUESTIONS have been raised over how dangerous cladding containing flammable plastic material similar to that used at Grenfell Tower was fitted at a Finsbury tower block.
The Town Hall started removing the cladding from the sides of high-rise Braithwaite House, in Bunhill Row, on Monday amid concerns that it is combustible.
Independent tests of the cladding, fitted as part of a 1998 refurbishment, confirmed the presence of aluminium composite material (ACM). It is believed to have a flammable plastic core – raising questions over how it was applied to the building and who signed it off. The Town Hall has promised a full investigation.
The removal follows a week of uncertainty in which residents of the 19-storey block have nervously waited for answers.
“It’s scary to think about it, especially after what happened to those poor people [at Grenfell Tower],” tenant Christine Byrne, 52, said. “It’s sad that it’s taken such a tragedy for [the authorities] to start looking into these buildings.”
She added: “My flat used to have a fire exit [to the neighbouring flat] but it was taken out and never replaced. I’ve got no means of escape.”
Builders removing the cladding said the sheets had two outer layers of aluminium, and two inner layers of plastic.
Stone wool used to insulate the building is not flammable, but one of the builders said wood had been used in places to fix the cladding to the block.
Islington housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward apologised to residents on behalf of the Town Hall. “There is going to be a full investigation into how it got put on the building and how it was signed off,” he said.
“It’s not acceptable and we are very sorry. If it’s combustible it should not be on the building.”
It has not yet been established whether the scheme met building regulations at the time and whether the cladding was banned for use on tower blocks. Cllr Ward added: “It appears that building control regulations are not clear – even from the government we are getting conflicting answers.”
The Braithwaite House revelations have put the spotlight on the way refurbishment projects are subcontracted.
In the case of Grenfell, a long chain of companies was responsible for refurbishing the block, raising concerns among fire safety experts about the quality of oversight and accountability.
Cllr Ward added: “In light of what’s happened all our procedures need to be reviewed. We need to review the entire process – that would be part of it [the investigation]. The whole process of procurement and subcontracting will be looked at.”
Islington has stepped up safety measures at the Finsbury block, with fire safety patrols taking place day and night. It is taking advice from the fire brigade and has said it will follow its recommendations. Council chiefs are awaiting test results for cladding from blocks on the Harvist estate, in Holloway, and Brunswick Close estate, in Clerkenwell.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a national investigation after every piece of cladding by then tested for fire resistance after the Grenfell Tower disaster failed to meet the necessary standard.
Islington Council has put on hold planned work to install cladding at four tower blocks – Ilex House, Gambier House, Halliday House and Arlington House.