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“Extend restriction on combustible materials to prevent further loss of life” asserts RIBA

26 May 2020

THE ROYAL Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has issued a detailed response to the Government’s review of the restriction on combustible materials in (and on the external walls of) buildings.

The RIBA recommends that the restriction introduced in December 2018 should:

*be extended to include hotels, hostels and boarding houses, and indeed all buildings where a catastrophic event could cause multiple fatalities

*apply to key materials in external walls only. If not, the list of materials exempt from the ban must be clarified and should include all materials that do not contribute to the spread of fire across external walls

In relation to this particular point, the RIBA recommends that, within external wall construction, the ban should only restrict plasterboard, sheathing boards, insulation, outermost cladding materials and significant materials in balconies, brise soleil and similar building elements to European classification A2-s1, d0 or A1. The ban should not include the building's primary structure. The primary structure should have adequate fire protection as set out in Building Regulations requirement B3 and, when included in the external wall, should still meet requirement B4.

The RIBA recommends that if the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will not alter the ban to only include these materials, then it should provide clarity on the list of materials that are exempt from the ban and include additional materials that do not significantly increase the potential fire load of external walls.

*not include the primary structure of the building. Further research into the use of structural timber within external walls (eg cross-laminated timber) should be undertaken to determine performance when subject to real fire loads

*be extended on a precautionary basis to include relevant buildings with a story over 11 metres above ground level pending further research to determine the appropriate height threshold. Research should include intelligence from Fire and Rescue Services

Jane Duncan, chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group for Fire Safety, said: “Almost three years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, hotels, hostels, boarding houses and other buildings with multiple and even vulnerable occupants are still being built using combustible materials on their external walls. Fires do not discriminate between building types or users, yet our Building Regulations do. The restriction on combustible materials must be extended as a matter of urgency in order to keep people safe.”

Duncan concluded: “The restriction in its current form has caused confusion in the industry. The Government must provide clear guidance and fund research to enable the construction of safe buildings, while also ensuring that innovation can still take place in order to combat the climate crisis.”

The RIBA’s full consultation response can be viewed here.