Almost 2500 military personnel based at the home of the UK’s nuclear deterrent are housed in high-rise buildings with flammable cladding, new data reveals.
Safety concerns have been raised after it emerged HMNB Clyde, also known as Faslane, has 22 of the 27 high-rise accommodation blocks on UK military bases which are either fully or partially clad in flammable material.
Labour said fire crews at the site must be restored to “their full strength” and there must be “firm deadlines” to remove the cladding.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has previously acknowledged remedial work to remove the cladding has begun on just one of the blocks.
It has now confirmed the 27 blocks house 3396 military personnel at five bases in the UK.
There are 2440 military personnel accommodated in the 22 buildings at Faslane.
SNP MP Brendan O’Hara warned there could be “devastating consequences” for personnel at the base, which is home to the submarine service.
O’Hara, whose Argyll and Bute constituency includes the base, said he was “astonished to hear the MoD, having known that the safety of thousands of naval personnel could be under threat due to living in accommodation with highly combustible cladding, has not taken action to have it removed immediately”.
He told the PA news agency it is “incredible” that more than 80% of high rises with flammable cladding on MoD bases are located at HMNB Clyde, adding: “The MoD has had to admit that 22 accommodation blocks at Faslane are clad in flammable material which could have devastating consequences for their own personnel.”
In a letter sent to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Mr O’Hara said it is his understanding that new blocks containing the cladding may have continued to be built after the Grenfell Tower disaster.
He said: “The Grenfell Tower tragedy took place in June 2017, yet it is my understanding that new blocks containing this potentially dangerous cladding may have continued to be erected at the Faslane site beyond 2017.
“I would welcome the reasons for this and for further information on whether buildings that continue to be erected as part of the expansion works are still being clad with these panels.
“Defence personnel and civilians working at the base deserve to be kept as safe as possible and I hope you will take steps to ensure this cladding is removed as a matter of urgency.”
The figures relating to the location of the high-rises on MoD bases and the number of personnel accommodated in them were provided in response to a written parliamentary question from Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey.
Healey said: “Four years on from the Grenfell tragedy, ministers have allowed a private contractor to cut the number of fire crews at HMNB Clyde despite knowing that 22 of the 27 high-rise buildings with flammable cladding are on that base. This puts forces personnel at the base at greater risk.
“Forces personnel put themselves in danger to protect our country, the least they deserve is the guarantee of a safe place to sleep at night when they’re home.”
The MoD said military personnel are also accommodated in high-rises with flammable cladding at four other sites: 206 personnel in one block at the Hyde Park Barracks in London; 180 in a block in the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham; 370 personnel at the HMS Drake base in Devonport; and 200 in two blocks at the HMS Nelson base in Portsmouth.
A navy spokesperson said: “The health and safety of our personnel is our highest priority and staff working at Clyde naval base are supported by a dedicated 24-hour fire service of professional crews on site.
“Buildings on the naval base are occupied in compliance with a full fire risk assessment”
Defence minister Jeremy Quin said the MoD “is carrying out remedial work or investigating remedial options” on the 27 high-rises.
He said that in response to the Grenfell Tower fire and following advice from the then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the MoD surveyed its estate in July and August 2017 for high-rise buildings with aluminium composite material, but found none of its buildings had that cladding.
MHCLG issued updated guidance in 2018 that buildings should be assessed to determine the type of cladding used, Quin said, and one building on the MoD estate, at HMNB Nelson, was identified as non-compliant.
In November 2019 fire safety regulators agreed that cladding should be removed from the MoD buildings, Quin said, and letters notifying of the risk and need for removal were sent to the relevant heads of establishments in December that year.
Quin said: “Defence Fire and Rescue provided advice on how to operate the buildings to enable them to be safe to occupy.
“Defence Fire and Rescue, the Defence Fire Safety Regulator and Defence Infrastructure Organisation agreed that occupation of the buildings could continue until the appropriate measures were implemented subject to maintaining and adhering to the conditions within the buildings fire risk assessments.
“Subsequent advice from fire engineering specialists confirmed that the buildings and cladding could be assessed to determine if the cladding needed to be removed.”