Council takes precaution to replace cladding on Evenlode and Windrush towers

Published: Monday, 26th June 2017

The City Council will replace the rain-screen cladding on Evenlode and Windrush Towers with improved non-combustible material in line with the requirements of the new central government guidance.

As reported in the media, the Government has directed that all aluminium composite (ACM) cladding on residential tower blocks be tested for fire safety. Samples of the ACM cladding which cover half of the two towers were sent to the Building Research Establishment for testing last week.

The results have come back and identify that the cladding is a risk.  As a precautionary measure, the City Council will therefore be replacing this cladding on the two blocks with improved non-combustible material. Plans for the replacement of the cladding are already underway and timeframes are being reviewed with contractors.

Councillor Bob Price, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “Tenants’ safety is our top concern and we will not compromise on safety standards. We have been working with Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service who have been involved in the design of the fire safety arrangements in the blocks. They completed a review of these arrangements and site inspections today, and confirmed that the fire safety measures in place are satisfactory.

“As a result I confirm that it is not necessary to evacuate the towers. We’re arranging for the work to begin removing the cladding to start as soon as possible, and we’ll let residents know more details about all of this as soon as we have finalised them.”

Simon Furlong, Director of Community Safety and Chief Fire Officer of Oxfordshire County Council Fire & Rescue Service said:

“I would like to reassure residents of Oxford’s five high-rise towers that Oxford City Council has taken all the necessary fire safety measures to ensure they are safe in their home.  Oxford City Council followed our advice to introduce a number of fire safety improvements as part of the recent refurbishment work.  This includes the installation of a new sprinkler system in flats and communal areas and a fire and smoke detection system connected directly to the fire service.

“As the owner of both buildings, Oxford City Council carries out regular fire risk assessments, which are audited by Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. These audits are up-to-date.  In the event of a fire at any high-rise tower in Oxford, we have the resources in place to ensure a rapid response within our target response times.”

Leaseholders have been advised that they will not be charged anything extra for this additional work.

Details of cladding on all Oxford City Council tower blocks were sent to the Government. They confirmed they are only testing ACM cladding – which applies to Evenlode and Windrush Towers, and which was identified as a risk. The other tower blocks will have rain-screen cladding made from non-combustible sheet aluminium, rather than aluminium composite.

The City Council has exceeded legal requirements in terms of the whole safety system in all five tower blocks. Fire safety precautions that have already been undertaken as part of the £20 million tower blocks repairs project are:

  • Sprinklers in all flats, directly connected to the Fire Service
  • Heat and smoke detectors in all flats
  • Smoke detectors in all communal areas, directly connected to the Fire Service
  • Non-combustible insulation
  • Fire breaks within the cladding system
  • Upgraded communal area fire doors and flat entrance fire doors
  • Automatic venting system to stairwell to remove smoke
  • Upgraded fire seals to waste chutes

Residents with questions or concerns about fire safety in the tower blocks can also telephone 01865 249811 or email towerblocks@oxford.gov.uk, or attend one of a series of residents meetings.

 

Questions and answers

 

Q. Which blocks are affected?

A. Evenlode and Windrush Towers

Q Why are you removing the cladding?

A. Like all councils, we have been working with the Government and Fire Service to review our buildings. As a precaution we submitted of the cladding identified as aluminium composite (ACM) cladding for testing at the Government’s BRE laboratory and the results that came back have found the ACM cladding that covers 50% of Evenlode and Windrush Towers was a risk. As a result we will be removing the ACM cladding from those buildings. Protection of Oxford's residents is our number one priority and we will not comprise on safety standards.

Q. How tall are the buildings?

A. Both Evenlode and Windrush Towers are 15 storeys

Q. How many flats are in each buildings?

A. There are 60 flats in each building, 120 flats in total.

Q. What type of cladding is it?

A. The cladding is made of aluminium composite material.

Q. Is the cladding fireproof?

A. No. The government test suggests that it is flammable under high temperatures. That is why we are taking steps to remove it.

Q. Is it the same cladding as Grenfell Towers?

A. The cladding is from a different manufacturer, is certified as of limited combustibility and low risk in accordance with  Building Regulations. However, following the tests we are taking action to remove the cladding as a precaution..

Q. Why did you declare the cladding panels were different than Grenfell?

A. While similar, the cladding is from a different manufacturer, is certified as of limited combustibility and low risk in accordance with Building Regulations. The system as a whole includes non-combustible insulation and fire breaks which we understand not to have been the case at Grenfell.  However, following the tests we are taking action to remove the cladding as a precaution.

Q. Why did you use this type of cladding if it created a fire risk?

A. The detailed circumstances are being looked into but at the time it was installed, we did not believe the ACM cladding at Evenlode and Windrush Towers represented a risk. It was recommended by the Council’s professional advisors and contractors and it, was certified as of limited combustibility and low risk in accordance with Building Regulations.

Q. Did the Council specify the fire safety requirement of the cladding?

A. We accepted the recommendation of the Council’s professional advisors and contractors. The material was certified as of limited combustibility and low risk in accordance with Building Regulations and approved by the Council’s Building Control Service.

Q. Was the council advised that the specification was different to what it turned out to be? 

A. The ACM cladding applied to Evenlode and Windrush was certified as of limited combustibility and low risk in accordance with  Building Regulations. Along with all other local authorities we were asked by Government to submit samples for testing at its BRE laboratory. We received the results of those tests on Saturday 24 June and immediately made contact with Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Q. When did you find out the cladding was a fire risk?

A. We got the results of the test on Saturday 24 June. We immediately made contact with the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service to confirm in the light of the new information that the buildings were safe and so that they could review operational arrangements which they have done.  We arranged an inspection of both buildings with Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue Service, which took place today, Monday 26 June June and no further immediate measures were advised. At the same time we started putting in place arrangements for the cladding to be removed by the contractor as soon as possible.

Q. How long will the cladding take to remove?

A. Plans for the replacement of the cladding are already underway.  We are reviewing the timeframe with our contractors. We’re arranging for the work to begin removing the cladding to begin as soon as possible, and we’ll let you know more details about all of this work as soon as we have finalised them.

Q. What fire safety measures does the building have?

A. All our tower blocks have been designed and built with fire safety in mind providing fire separation and containment with protected fire escape routes. Additional safety measures include:

  • Sprinklers in all flats, directly connected to the Fire Service
  • Heat and smoke detectors in all flats
  • Smoke detectors in all communal areas, directly connected to the Fire Service
  • Non-combustible insulation
  • Fire breaks within the cladding system
  • Ugraded communal area fire doors and flat entrance fire doors
  • Automatic venting system to stairwell to remove smoke
  • Upgraded fire seals to waste chutes

Q. Why are the towers not being evacuated until the cladding is removed?

A. Together with Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, we have assessed that the Evenlode and Windrush Towers do not present a particular risk that warrants additional safety measures over and above those we have in place. As a result, we can confirm it is not necessary to evacuate the Towers.

Q. Have any additional fire safety measures been put in place while the cladding is being removed?

A. The two buildings have been fully inspected with Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue Service who have confirmed that the safety measures we have in place – including sprinklers, fire doors, heat and smoke detectors, venting and fire breaks in the cladding system  are sufficient. We have complied with the new central government advice on precautions to take in advance of replacing the cladding .

Q. What about other blocks with cladding? Have they all been tested?

A. We have sent details of all cladding on our tower blocks to the Government. They confirmed they are only testing ACM cladding – which applies to Evenlode and Windrush Towers, and which was identified as a risk. Our other tower blocks will have rain-screen cladding made from non-combustible sheet aluminium, rather than aluminium composite.

Q. Why was ACM cladding only applied to the Evenlode and Windrush Towers?

A. This cladding was applied in the design of the Evenlode and Windrush Towers refurbishment as part of the wider Blackbird Leys neighbourhood regeneration. It was certified of limited combustibility and low risk in accordance with Building Regulations.

Q. When did my tower blocks last have a fire safety inspection?

A. All of our high-rise tower blocks have up to date valid fire assessments, with all recommended improvements included in the recent works. The alarm system is tested weekly.

Q. What additional sources of information are there for residents?

A. Residents can:

  • visit Oxford City Council offices in the city centre or at Temple Cowley
  • attend one of the drop-in sessions this week, advertised locally in the tower blocks
  • contact our email address at towerblocks@oxford.gov.uk
  • call our helpline on 01865 249811

Q. What about other council buildings in Oxford and across Oxfordshire?

A. There are no other buildings owned by Oxford City Council with ACM-type cladding. We have been in liaison with Oxfordshire County Council and the other District Councils who are making their own assessments of their building stock. We have also written to other employers with large buildings in Oxford to advise them to consider whether any of their buildings should be tested.

Q. Will you be providing 24 hour on-site fire patrols like London?

A. The advice we have received from Government is that 24 hour on-site fire patrols are not necessary for tower blocks which have sprinkler systems installed, which applies in our case.