William Eichler 12 April 2018

Whitehall to consult on banning fire performance ‘desktop studies’

The Government yesterday launched a consultation into the use of ‘desktop studies’ to assess the fire performance of external cladding systems.

The consultation will ask for views on whether ‘desktop studies’, that is, assessments carried out without tests, are the most effective way of classifying the fire performance of construction products and systems.

The use of these studies is being considered as part of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review into Building Regulations and Fire Safety established by the Government following the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy.

The fire in the North Kensington tower block, which killed 71 people last June, is thought to have spread rapidly due to the building’s exterior cladding.

Dame Hackitt’s interim report, published last year, recommended the Government should ‘significantly restrict’ the use of ‘desktop studies’.

‘The widespread use of desktop studies to assess equivalence of products and systems is not properly managed or controlled in terms of both the circumstances in which they can be used and the qualifications and experience of those undertaking them,’ she wrote.

‘Test results, desktop studies, and the details of those who produce them, are not made public,’ she added.

‘The Government should significantly restrict the use of desktop studies to approve changes to cladding and other systems to ensure that they are only used where appropriate and with sufficient, relevant test evidence,’ Dame Hackitt recommended.

‘Those undertaking desktop studies must be able to demonstrate suitable competence. The industry should ensure that their use of desktop studies is responsible and in line with this aim.’

Announcing the consultation, housing secretary, Sajid Javid said: ‘We have listened carefully to Dame Judith Hackitt and we are taking action to strengthen building regulations guidance, which could mean that the use of “desktop studies” are either significantly restricted or banned altogether.

‘This demonstrates the tough measures we are prepared to take to make sure that cladding tests are as robust as possible and people are safe in their homes.’

Responding to the announcement of a consultation, Local Government Association (LGA) chairman, Lord Porter, said: 'The LGA explained to the Government several months ago that Approved Document B needed revising in order to provide clarity for building owners seeking to replace flammable cladding, so we are pleased to see this consultation emerge.

'Currently, if no fire test data exists for a particular cladding system, a desktop study can be submitted. We have consistently said that desktop studies cannot substitute for real-world tests of cladding systems – including in our evidence to the Hackitt Review.

'We urge the Government to hold firm against industry pressure that seeks to allow their continued use.'

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