Flammable cladding can still be used if it passes a test which is not “appropriate for the real world conditions”, MSPs have been told.
A Holyrood committee heard evidence from housing, fire and insurance experts about building safety and fire regulations who raised concerns about the testing of cladding and the lack of “competency” in the sector.
In the week after a block of student flats in Bolton was engulfed by fire, and two years on from the Grenfell tragedy, the Local Government Committee was told that combustible cladding was still allowed for use on high-rise and high-risk buildings in Scotland.
Although the witnesses agreed that regulations in Scotland were “robust” compared to those in England, several said the test cladding must pass did not accurately reflect how it may react on a building.
“We feel it could be improved to include more realistic scenarios,” said Craig Ross, from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, adding that there were only three testing facilities in the UK and a waiting list for the specific BS8414 test to allow combustible materials to be used on buildings of between a year and 18 months.
Dr Jim Glockling, the Fire Protection Association’s technical director, said that testing the cladding had to be done before or during the construction process and “does not reproduce reality”, calling for regulations to go further than current standards “to account for the imperfect environment that the world is”.
“We have a susceptibility inbuilt on the assumption of perfection in the way we are actually able to put up buildings, which the current view – given the losses we are seeing – is that this is not possible or credible,” he added.
But Professor Jose Torero, who specialises in civil engineering at University College London, told MSPs the issue was how the test results were applied to the construction of buildings.
He said: “It is not the test that is bad, it is not the regulation that is bad, it is the use of the regulation and the use of the test that is actually bad.
“In the hands of a competent professional, regulations can be supplemented, regulations can be understood and ambiguities can be filled. But in the absence of competent professionals, none of those things happen and then mistakes are made.”
Asked about whether he would support a complete ban on combustible material used in construction, Prof Torero said: “That is a very, very simple solution but a solution that has become in many ways unacceptable to multiple other functionalities of buildings that right now prevail right across the country.”
Pointing out that buildings such as the Scottish Parliament would “not exist” without flammable materials used in its construction, he added: “While I do agree that I would like to see no combustible materials in any building to try to prevent all sorts of fires, we all recognise that it is unrealistic – we are surrounded by combustible materials and we have to be a bit more intelligent in the way in which we look at this particular problem and not just simply make blank statements.”