24/10/2019 00:01 BST | Updated 24/10/2019 10:48 BST

‘Flawed’ Safety Test Leaves Thousands At Risk Of Grenfell-Style Fire, Government Warned

Fire safety experts call for all HPL cladding to be “urgently” removed as major concerns raised with parliamentary committee over laboratory tests.

Thousands of people are at risk of a Grenfell-style fire because of a “flawed” test that stated a type of cladding covering hundreds of tower blocks is safe, the government has been told.

Fire safety experts have called for all HPL cladding to be “urgently” removed as they raised major concerns with a parliamentary committee over the laboratory tests of the material.

HPL - or high pressure laminate - is thought to be covering 440 tower blocks that house 26,000 people.

The covering is different to the ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding used on the side of Grenfell Tower, where a devastating fire killed 72 people in 2017.

Ministers have ordered that all ACM cladding be removed. But, following a test in July that experts have raised questions over, most types of HPL were deemed safe by the government.

Labour said the issue raised by insulation manufacturer Rockwool was the latest instance of “delayed acting on fire safety failures” by ministers that has left tens of thousands “still living in unsafe buildings”.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said the test “continues to be fit for its purpose”.

This summer, ministers announced that only certain types of HPL, when combined with combustible insulations, should be removed from high-rise buildings after the results of the so-called BS8414 test were published.

At the time, the MHCLG said no building in the country should be covered with this combination of material, though industry estimates suggest it is in fact widespread.

Rockwool, in written evidence to the housing, communities and local government select committee of MPs, warns the BS8414 test uses more fire protection than deployed in typical buildings so does “not reflect real-life conditions” and “underestimated the risks of combustible materials”.

“The test method neither reflects the way cladding systems are installed on buildings nor the buildings themselves,” it says.

Other experts have also raised concerns about the test, which was first used in 2002.

Dr Barbara Lane, a specialist in fire engineering who gave evidence to the Grenfell inquiry, has said the tests are not “relevant” because they are “so far away from the kind of construction detailing that people like me have to deal with in our profession”.

Even the body that carried out the BS8414 test on HPL for the government, the Fire Protection Agency, has pointed out flaws, warning that the test should have measured the toxicity of the cladding and included windows and other fixings.

In the evidence to MPs, Rockwool states: “We believe the large-scale test used to assess HPL cladding was fundamentally flawed, and that government should give urgent instructions to building owners to remove all combustible cladding and insulation from high-rise and high-risk buildings.”

Sarah Jones, Labour’s shadow housing minster, pointed to the slow progress to replace ACM cladding, and tests of suspected dangerous cladding that have yet to be published, as as she rounded on ministers.

She told HuffPost UK: “It is astonishing that two and a half years after Grenfell, we still don’t know what materials are covering the vast majority of tall buildings.

“Time and time again Conservative ministers have delayed acting on fire safety failures and tens of thousands of people are still living in unsafe buildings as a result.

“The government confirmed months ago that HPL cladding was deadly and must be removed from buildings.

“Yet ministers still have no idea how many buildings are covered in HPL and last month the housing secretary shifted the deadline for essential cladding inspections from 2020 to 2021 – almost four years after Grenfell.

“We warned that the cladding scandal wouldn’t end with ACM cladding, nor will it end with HPL. Yet ten months after tests on other suspect cladding samples were due to complete, the government has still not published the results.”

It is the latest in series of fire safety issues that remain unresolved more than two years after the Grenfell tragedy.

Scores of tower blocks are still covered in Grenfell-style ACM cladding despite ministers pledging £200 million to remove the material. Some 324 high-rise residential and publicly-owned buildings still remain ACM covered, latest figures show.

Meanwhile, a HuffPost UK investigation earlier this year revealed that at least 25,000 faulty fire doors that were planned to be removed in the aftermath of the Grenfell tower blaze were still in use.

Thousands of replacement doors have yet to be ordered largely because council bosses are concerned they will not receive compensation despite being sold defective products from the private sector. A remediation plan produced by the fire door industry has also yet to emerge.

An MHCLG spokesperson said: “We have been clear that building owners should ensure that their buildings are safe for residents.

“The government issued unambiguous advice to building owners 18 months ago to reinforce existing building safety requirements and tell building owners what to do to make sure their cladding system is safe.

“The BS8414 test was developed after many years of research and the department and the independent expert panel consider this test continues to be fit for its purpose.”