Last weekend and throughout this week, there has been a rush to remove Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panels from Salford tower blocks as, day by day, 24 Salford tower blocks, from Eccles to Blackfriars and Pendleton, failed new Government fire tests.
After the initial reaction, work to remove panels has slowed leaving insulation underneath totally exposed in some blocks.
All week, residents have been switching their focus to the insulation, wondering how fire-safe it is, and, this morning, Lord Porter, chair of the Local Government Association, kind of agreed...
"The Government has not done the re-test properly" he said "They are not testing the whole system. We should be testing the insulation. There is more than a good chance that the insulation is probably the main problem."
In response, the Government's Independent Expert Advisory Panel issued a new statement, which seemed to be advising that the ACM panels can now stay on "under certain approved circumstances", and that removing them could have an impact "on the overall fire integrity of the building". The full statement reads...
"The Panel will engage with experts across the country to consider whether these panels can be used safely as part of a wider building external wall system, and therefore could remain on a building under certain approved circumstances.
"If, in the meantime, a landlord chooses to take down and replace cladding, care should be taken to consider the impact that removal may have on the other wall elements, especially insulation, and therefore on the overall fire integrity of the building as well as other Building Regulation requirements."
Salix Homes, this afternoon, issued a letter to residents at Canon Hussey Court, stating that it will now replace panels as they are taken down (see photo) but no-one really seems to know what is safe and what isn't.
This afternoon the Salford Star spoke to Salford City Council's new 'fire tsar', Councillor John Merry, who hadn't seen the new statement from the Expert Panel...
"The original advice we got was to remove the panels and we immediately ordered that the panels be removed" he said "...I am absolutely in no doubt that the strategy we're following of removing the panels and replacing them is right for the welfare of individuals, and the safety of residents is paramount.
"When I see that advice we will study it and see if it is applicable to Salford" he added "I don't think residents will be particularly happy if we stop what we're doing now and leave them in limbo. The insulation we've got will be covered up to protect it and the information we've got is that it qualifies.
"The advice we've been given from Government has been contradictory at times" he explained "...As far as we're concerned we're now going to invest in a cladding that is safe and obviously there might be some delay in re-cladding all the blocks..."
The Salford Star has asked for a comment from Greater Manchester Fire Service on the Expert Panel statement and is still awaiting a response.
* Yesterday, the Salford Star attended a special session on the 'response to the Grenfell tragedy' at the Housing 2017 conference hosted by the Chartered Institute of Housing at Manchester Conference Centre.
Here, David Montague, chief exec of L&Q, a southern developer, argued that removing ACM panels was a "knee-jerk reaction" and that what was underneath could be worse.
Sam Webb, an architect who currently sits on the All Party Parliamentary Fire and Rescue Group, and who was an expert witness for families at the inquest for the Lakanal House fire of 2009 in which six people died, told the audience "what should be tested is the whole installation that goes on the outside of the building not individual elements".
He added that the first London Building Act was passed in 1667, written by Christopher Wren, and designed to prevent fire... "It was laid down that external walls of buildings were to be of bricks, stone, stucco, riveted tiles or slate to prevent fire spread" he explained "This Act lasted until the mid-1980s when Greater London Council was abolished by Margaret Thatcher...
"We've deregulated everything" he added "...It's gone. You can have self regulation...MPs talk about bonfires of red tape; well it's led to Grenfell Tower...
"We are at a turning point" he insisted "Nothing can be the same again. This is a world scale disaster...on a Titanic scale and we all need to re-think and change our attitudes."
See also previous related Salford Star articles...
Seven More Salford Tower Blocks To Have Cladding Stripped – click here
Potentially Toxic Cladding In Over A Dozen Salford Tower Blocks – click here
Salford Image Obsession and Cladding Unveiled – click here
Salix Homes to Strip Cladding From Salford Tower Blocks - click here