A Newcastle student flat is using the same cladding as Grenfell Tower's
The Shield in Newcastle. Pic: Twitter/@TyneSnapper

The Shield, an under-construction student block in Newcastle is being built with the same type of cladding used on London’s Grenfell Tower, which a fire engulfed two weeks ago and killed at least 79 people, the BBC reports.

One of The Shield’s cladding includes Reynobond ACM PE Panels, the same cover used on Grenfell’s exterior. It is reported to have a flammable plastic core and for fire safety reasons, is ruled as too dangerous to be used in other countries, although it conforms to the UK’s fire safety standards.

BAM Properties Ltd operations director Gerry Mather said it “meets all fire safety and building regulations” and has sought “additional information and reassurances” from the architect, building control and fire safety consultants.

“If we had any concerns, we would act on these.”

Mather said The Shield has “very different safety characteristics” from Grenfell and is “considerably smaller than those being identified in public discussion by fire safety experts”.

The “approved inspector” overseeing the building regulations compliance, HCD Building Control Ltd, has declined to comment.

Fresh Student Living, which manages The Shield, said its buildings are are “fully compliant with fire safety regulations and are fire risk assessed”, in a statement posted on its website after the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment. Pic: Reuters/Neil Hall.

On June 14, a ghastly inferno swept through Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block in North Kensington that houses over 400 people. Fire safety experts have suggested the cladding used on Grenfell could be the reason the fire spread so quickly externally.

The Reynobond PE Panel is reported to be less fireproof than its alternative Reynobond’s fire-resistant ‘FR’ panel, which is the more expensive by £2 per square metre, according to Chronicle Live.

The maximum height the UK government allows for such material to be used is 18m. When complete, The Shield will be taller than 18m. In the US, this same material is not allowed to be used on buildings more than 12.2m, while in Germany, the cladding is deemed ‘flammable’ and cannot be used on buildings higher than 22m.

BBC Newsnight reports that high-rise buildings in countries like France, the United Arab Emirates and Australia that used similar cladding have all been hit by fires that spread.

The Shield will welcome its first tenants this autumn, where up to 409 students will rent flats there.

The National Union of Students has released a guide for student unions staff and concerned students regarding fire safety and cladding, which includes what to seek clarification on and how to take action.

The three questions students should seek answers to are:

  • Which student blocks are 18 metres high or over?
  • Does the building have Aluminium Composite Material Cladding? Concerns have also been raised about the use of combustible insulation.
  • Is the fire detection system operational? Have there been any complaints?

Students can complain about fire hazards to their local council or request their accommodation provider to take up the Department for Communities and Local Government’s offer for free testing of building materials on all high-rise blocks over 18 metres high.

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