Statement on building cladding and fire safety
Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities Angela Constance
Wednesday 15 November 2017
Presiding Officer, I would like to provide Parliament with an update on the work of the Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety. I am sure that I speak for everyone in this Chamber when I say that our thoughts and deepest sympathy remain with all those affected by the tragic events at Grenfell Tower. Since those events in June, we have taken steps to strengthen building regulations and fire safety in Scotland.
The Ministerial Group has been focused on three key areas:
• reassuring the public of the steps we have taken to ensure such a tragedy will not happen in Scotland;
• establishing the fire safety of high rise domestic buildings and;
• improving the fire safety and compliance of building standards.
Following the Grenfell fire, reassuring the public that our high rise buildings are safe from fire was paramount. I want to record my thanks and highlight the immense work undertaken by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in this endeavor.
The Service has distributed over 60,000 comprehensive fire safety leaflets, carried out around 890 operational assurance visits to high rise domestic properties and over 1200 individual home fire safety visits. These activities gave the public visible and tangible reassurance at a time when the tragic events of Grenfell were understandably causing great anxiety.
The Ministerial Group also asked the Fire Service to extend and refresh their multi-story fire safety campaign. Launched on 18th October this gives information and advice on what to do if there is a fire in a high rise building. The campaign promotes fire safety advice about living in high-rise buildings and will run for the remainder of this year.
Following the tragic events at Grenfell, it became clear that the Aluminum Composite Material – ACM, used on the Tower’s cladding system, contributed to the rapid spread of fire. This specific product was first certified for use in 2008, and became the focus for checks across the UK.
In Scotland, applications for building warrants for high rise domestic buildings, and building regulations in force from May 2005 do not permit use of the same type of ACM as that found on Grenfell Tower.
The Ministerial Group nonetheless sought to verify whether there were any high-rise domestic buildings in Scotland, completely clad in the same type of ACM.
Presiding Officer, I want to be clear about ACM. The presence of ACM itself, does not necessarily mean that a building is defective or dangerous. As the UK Government’s full scale fire tests have demonstrated, some grades of ACM used with the right insulation can mean that an overall cladding system is fire resistant enough to be used on high rise buildings. It is the type of ACM and the extent of its use, that is key in determining fire risk.
For these reasons the Ministerial Group took a risk based approach that focused on establishing the presence of ACM cladding on domestic buildings over 18 metres, as well as non-domestic buildings where people might sleep, such as hospitals and care homes. Schools were also prioritised.
The nature and scale of this work is resource intensive and I want to express my gratitude to local authorities and others for their responsiveness to our requests which helped establish the extent of the use of ACM.
31 local authorities reported that no public or private domestic high-rise was completely clad in ACM. As members know, Glasgow City Council reported that ACM had been found on private high rise buildings which were granted building warrants before 2005. Two of these have extensive ACM. The Council are working closely with owners to ensure that fire safety measures are upgraded and a long term solution is agreed.
Our request for information from local authorities showed that having a clear nationwide picture of our high rise building stock would be helpful to inform our future work. The Group has therefore commissioned a comprehensive inventory of domestic high-rise buildings over 18 metres which will include construction type and fire safety features. This work is expected to be complete by Spring 2018 and we will then consider how it can be maintained in the future.
The Ministerial Group is determined to do all it can to ensure that the fire safety and building standards expected in the buildings we live in, are as strong and effective as they can be so I want to outline to the chamber the other steps we have taken.
As I said, building regulations relating to the fire safety of cladding systems, were strengthened in 2005 to ensure cladding on domestic high rise buildings must be non-combustible and met the most stringent fire test at that time.
We are not complacent - further to our original request for, and receipt of, information on all high rise buildings over 18 metres, the Group has decided to seek additional reassurance from local authorities with respect to pre-2005 high rise domestic properties and non domestic high rise buildings with sleeping accommodation.
We are doing so to ensure that we have captured information on all relevant building types and nothing has been missed.
In addition the Ministerial Working Group has commissioned three reviews.
The first is a review of building standards relating to fire safety to ensure our regulations are robust and clear.
The Review, chaired by Dr Paul Stollard, is already underway. Its scope covers high rise domestic buildings including student accommodation, and high rise non-domestic buildings with sleeping accommodation such as hotels, hospitals.
It will focus on standards that cover fire spread on:
• external walls;
• spread to and from neighbouring buildings; and
• escape and automatic fire suppression systems.
The Review will draw upon the expertise of fire and building design specialists from academia and industry and, will look beyond Scotland to learn from international best practice. Recommendations for improvement will be shared with a global group of experienced building fire safety regulators from the USA, Australia, Netherlands and Austria, ensuring that any required changes reflect the latest expertise from across the world.
The second is a review of enforcement and compliance of building standards.
Earlier this year Scottish Ministers gave an undertaking that they will consider the findings of the Independent Inquiry into the Construction of Edinburgh Schools.
This comprehensive review, chaired by Professor John Cole, will examine the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in all elements of construction from start to finish.
It will consider the actions needed before a building warrant is granted and, a completion certificate is accepted. It will consider the risk-based approach to reasonable inquiry by local authority verifiers before they accept a completion certificate and the role of certification in the construction journey.
Additionally the review will reflect on any issues identified with wind calculation and installation of external wall insulation which may require further action.
Chairs of such high calibre leading these reviews, alongside the wealth of expertise on each of the review groups, demonstrates the support we have to get this right.
The recommendations of these reviews will lead to a consultation starting next Spring.
The third is a review of Scotland’s fire safety regime for high rise domestic properties to ensure it is fit for purpose and provides comprehensive protection for residents.
This review will be led by the Scottish Government and begin this month. It will identify changes required in legislation or practice including whether the roles and responsibilities of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service should be expanded.
Together these three reviews will ensure that we improve our practices and have robust regulations in building standards and fire safety.
Presiding Officer, the Ministerial Working Group has also developed a comprehensive strategic plan of activity. This includes consulting on consolidated and strengthened fire safety guidance for buildings where people sleep and, on a minimum safe standard for fire and smoke alarms in Scottish homes. Our work also involves close involvement with the on-going UK review of building standards ensuring that any key lessons are applied here in Scotland.
I hope this overview of the current work of the Ministerial Working Group can reassure Parliament that the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that lessons are learned and action taken to make our buildings safe, and that as part of this we will continue to keep a watching brief on the UK Grenfell public inquiry, ready to respond to any new evidence that comes to light.