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Concrete sector reiterates support for height changes

30 June 2020

THE MPA (Mineral Products Association) UK Concrete’s director Chris Leese stated that it was ‘vital that the debate on fire protection is informed by the facts and not misperceptions’.

In May, MPA UK Concrete urged the government to ensure that its combustibles ban ‘should not come with any exemptions or further testing’, and added that proposals to ban all combustible materials in external walls of buildings 11m and higher ‘will protect lives and should not come with exemptions for any materials’.

It called on policymakers to ‘avoid exemptions and concessions for further fire tests on combustible materials that have been proven to burn as a result of fires’ in multi occupant buildings, and in its submissions to the consultation on the ban it added that the ban ‘would not restrict designers from making sustainable material choices’.

Politics Home has now reported on another statement from Mr Leese, who argued that with safety ‘paramount’, it was ‘vital that the debate on fire protection is informed by the facts and not misperceptions about the carbon performance of concrete’ – as ‘far from being a threat’, it was ‘very much part’ of the solution ‘to achieving net zero’ with buildings ‘one of the main sources of carbon emissions in the UK’.

For him, this was something ‘which has to be tackled if we are to reach net zero’, but ‘simultaneously’ it was ‘critical that we take every opportunity to build safety into all new buildings in order to protect lives’. Mr Leese said in turn that ‘it is possible to deliver both’, and said that MPA UK Concrete supported the switch to 11m ‘because of the inherent fire risk posed by use of flammable products in buildings’.

The ‘availability of sustainable, non-combustible alternatives’ such as concrete meant that the sector believes ‘the ban does not go far enough’ and ‘should extend to banning the use of combustible materials in a broader range of building types and including the structure of the building itself’. As long as regulations allow ‘potentially combustible materials to be used’ in buildings where ‘many people, including the potentially vulnerable, sleep’, then ‘we continue to knowingly build more and unnecessary risk into the heart of the built environment’.

These risks have ‘been vividly illustrated’ after a ‘spate of very serious fires’ in multi occupancy buildings constructed with combustible materials’ in 2019, including the Cube student block in Boltonthe Beechmere care home in Crewe; the Barking flat block fire; and the Cribbs Causeway Premier Inn blaze. For Mr Leese, ‘this cannot be an acceptable state of affairs’, with groups ‘who continue push hard for the increased use of timber in construction’.

Despite the consultation period having closed on the 11m ban, Mr Lees noted, those groups ‘claim that any increased regulation, which has the effect of reducing combustible materials including timber from new buildings, will restrict designers from making the most sustainable choices’, and ‘hence jeopardise’ the government’s commitment to reach net zero carbon by 2050.

However, he claimed this perspective ‘surely risks somehow “trumping” fire safety’, and ‘should not be allowed to influence regulation aimed at protecting people from fire’; with safety ‘paramount’, it is ‘vital that the debate on fire protection is informed by the facts and not misperceptions about the carbon performance of concrete’.

He further noted that a ban on all combustible materials in construction ‘would not jeopardise the UK’s commitment to reach net zero carbon by 2050’, and concluded that ‘fire safety and climate change are both extremely important issues to consider when designing and constructing a building’, and that it was ‘vital that important regulatory decisions are made having regard to facts’.

Concrete sector reiterates support for height changes