Fire safety in UK buildings is governed by part B of the Building Regulations, a document that has not been subject to an in-depth review since 2006 (by contrast, other parts are reviewed every two years). A 2015 survey by the Fire Sector Federation, a forum for fire and rescue organisations, found that 92% of its members believed the regulations were “long overdue an overhaul”, claiming that they do not reflect today’s design and construction methods and that research underpinning the guidance is out of date. The coroner in the Lakanal House case also called for a review of part B, as the evidence pointed to a risk of further deaths in the future unless changes were made, with about 4,000 tower blocks in the UK remaining subject to outdated regulations.
Which would suggest that the 2009 summary I linked to is still the latest regulations (flammable cladding is allowed) and advice (it's really a good idea if cladding is not flammable). This appears confirmed by
“The issue is that, under building regulations, only the surface of the cladding has to be fire-proofed to class 0, which is about surface spread,” says Tarling. “The stuff behind it doesn’t, and it’s this which has burned.”
Dr Jim Glocking, technical director of the Fire Protection Association (FPA), thinks our standards need a fundamental overhaul. He says he has been campaigning for years to see fire safety standards improved, to no avail.
“We have been very concerned about the introduction of highly combustible products into buildings,” he says. “They are often being introduced on the back of the sustainability agenda, but it’s sometimes being done recklessly without due consideration to the consequences. It’s not uncommon for buildings to have blocks of polystyrene up to 30cm deep on the outside, which is an extraordinary quantity of combustible material to be sticking on to a building. There are often ventilation voids between the rainscreen cladding and the insulation to prevent damp, but this also increases the spread of flames.”
He says UK fire regulations are unique in focusing on simply evacuating people before the building falls down, but not on properly tackling the ingress of fire from outside. “Our regulations are generally very good at keeping people safe,” he says, “but they work on a presumption that fires start inside buildings and that the method for protecting people is to ensure that it stays in the room of origin, doesn’t get to any neighbouring rooms, and certainly doesn’t get to any floors above. But they do not cater for fires ingressing into the building from outside or spreading to the external cladding, which appears to be what happened at Grenfell Tower.”
“We really are forgetting the lessons of the past,” he adds. “I think the inexcusable element here is that with cladding or insulation there are choices. There will be a perfectly good non-combustible choice that can be made, but somebody is not making those calls. It’s a tragedy that long-awaited changes to regulations usually only happen after significant loss of life.”
Sorry about the long quote, but it seems pertinent.