Building cladding has made the headlines in the most tragic of circumstances in recent weeks, as the Grenfell Tower disaster has exposed the fire safety dangers associated with these materials. For many people, this aesthetic addition to many UK tower blocks was a completely unknown entity prior to this tragedy. Now in full public view and with inspections being carried out countrywide, we look at some of the key issues associated with this practice.
Exactly what is cladding and how do you know if it is present on a property?
Cladding is an alternative way to enhance the appearance of a building. There are many different types of cladding that can be implemented with a variety of uses. Planning permission isn’t usually required and the work can fall under Permitted Development. However, enquiries will of course need to be made with the local authority and further checks undertaken against the title to ensure there are no covenants restricting the use of the same. If any cladding is undertaken it will be necessary to comply with building regulation and building control.
At the time of writing, uncertainty resides around whether or not the materials used in the cladding on Grenfell Tower were compliant with planning and building controls. But investigations are ongoing, and so far 60 towers in 25 different local authority areas across the UK have been confirmed by the government to have failed cladding fire safety tests. It is undoubtedly a practice that is now under heavy scrutiny.
What should you look out for?
A physical inspection of the property will determine if there is cladding and then any appropriate enquiries in respect of the same can be raised. When purchasing a leasehold property the Freeholder/Management Company will also provide information in respect of any works undertaken in the last 3 years as well as details of any proposed future works. The management replies will also provide details of any risk assessments or fire risk assessments which have been undertaken and enquiries can be made in respect of the recommendations made and if the same has been followed to ensure that there is compliance with the relevant legislation. It is important to obtain as much information as possible before committing to the purchase.
Where do we go now?
The terrible events of the Grenfell fire have given us one thing: awareness.
Building fire safety regulations are now firmly back under scrutiny and on the government agenda. Many councils have felt the backlash of public outrage, with many taking to social media, the press, and indeed the streets to express their concerns regarding safety for buildings similar to Grenfell. This could and should bring about a greater understanding of the structural makeup of the buildings around us, and may also lead to legislative reform. In the meantime, the message to property buyers and tenants alike is simple: be as aware and informed as you can be about the structural makeup and safety regulations of your property.