Dozens of new school buildings in England ‘have combustible insulation’ | Planning policy


Dozens of schools have been built using combustible insulation since the material was banned from high-rise apartment buildings after the Grenfell Tower disaster, raising concerns for children’s safety.

More than 70 schools have likely used foam plastic insulation, which burns, as it was banned on residential buildings over 18 meters in height in December 2018, according to an industry study.

Insulation maker Rockwool’s study also found about 25 newly constructed hospitals, nursing homes, and sheltered housing complexes that were likely built with combustible insulation. The numbers are believed to be underestimated.

It comes after the Education Ministry unveiled new fire safety proposals for school buildings last Thursday that would continue to allow combustible cladding on structures less than 18 meters in height. The government closed a separate consultation on whether to extend its ban on combustible materials to shorter buildings a year ago, but has yet to announce its findings.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the numbers were a “major cause for concern … Action rather than discussion is needed now to remove and replace high combustible materials. risk and ensure the safety of young people and educational staff, ”he said.

Among the schools using combustible insulation is the Joseph Leckie Academy in Walsall, West Midlands, which used the same Kingspan insulation that was used on the Grenfell Tower. The academy did not respond to a request for comment. Other schools used the type of high pressure laminate panels that were used on the Cube student housing block in Bolton which caught fire in 2019.

Over the past five years, 47 primary and secondary school buildings have been destroyed by fire in England, according to insurer Zurich, which estimates that more than 390,000 hours of teaching could be lost next year due to school fires. The insurer and the National Fire Chiefs Council are calling for sprinklers to be mandatory in new and renovated schools.

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint Secretary General of the National Education Union, said: “It is clearly very unwise to choose to use an insulating material that makes a school more susceptible to fire. Not only does it risk lives, but [there is]also the disruption of education – not to mention the cost to the taxpayer of putting things back in order following a major fire. “

Since the Grenfell disaster in 2017, only buildings over 18 meters in height have been prohibited from using combustible materials on their facades. But there have been several serious fires in shorter buildings since the tragedy, including the Cube fire and another in 2019 at Samuel Garside House, a block with wooden siding in Barking, London.

MPs, firefighters, the Construction Industry Council and London Mayor Sadiq Khan are among those calling for the ban to be extended to schools.

The Education Ministry launched a consultation last week on new fire safety guidelines for schools requiring non-combustible siding on school buildings over 18 meters in height, but suggesting that the material would be allowed on blocks taller. short unless deemed vulnerable to vandalism.

The Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said it would respond to the consultation on extending the ban in building regulations “in due course”.

Kingspan has told the government it opposes a ban on certain products and would prefer to see comprehensive fire tests of the systems, regardless of the height of the building or the materials used.

Ronnie King, fire chief for 20 years and now advisor to the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue, said: “It really is a no-brainer that you need to protect the school and its fabric.

“You would have thought the lesson from Grenfell was that you protect your property and reduce the risk of children being harmed or, God forbid, killed.

He criticized the current approach of “using almost temporary building materials and materials”.

“You save on construction, so it doesn’t matter if they burn,” he said. “But these are community assets and children lose their schooling when they burn.”

Rockwool, which manufactures noncombustible insulation, used the Glenigan construction industry database to estimate the number of buildings with rainscreening systems completed or on the verge of being completed since the construction ban. 2018. It then applied its calculation that combustible insulation had a 75% market share to produce its estimates.

“We don’t have a perfect set of information and we’re trying to fill the void,” a spokesperson said. “We are trying to demonstrate to the government that outside the scope of the ban, buildings are still constructed with combustible materials. The number of projects with combustible materials is probably much higher because there are buildings with non-combustible insulation, but with combustible lining. “

A spokesperson for MHCLG said: “We have already banned the use of all combustible materials in all skyscrapers, hospitals and student accommodation over 18 meters. In low-rise buildings, all materials must pass rigorous safety checks before they can be used on a building, and our Building Safety Bill will ensure even stricter oversight of products that will be used in homes across the board. the future.

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