Cladding product pulled from sale

Image copyright Kingspan
Image caption A picture of the fire test that took place in the summer

Officials have had a cladding type identified by a Newsnight report as potentially unsafe pulled from sale.

Vitracore G2 had previously passed tests which meant it was officially considered highly fire-resistant.

But officials now believes that the product on sale is different to the product supplied for testing.

Valcan, the UK distributor, says it contests the government's results, and says the tested product was no different to the sold product.

Vitracore G2 is an alumnium outer cladding product. Unlike the cladding panels on the Grenfell Tower, it did not contain a combustible plastic core.

It is, instead, an all-aluminium product and was categorised, following laboratory tests, as being of "limited combustibility" or "A2" grade. This means that it is expected to have a relatively high level of fire resistance and could be installed on buildings without requiring extra testing or work by engineers.

Newsnight reported in July about a test of the product at an accredited testing facility in Dubai. The test, which was commissioned by Kingspan, a rival company, found that it did not perform as one would expect of an A2 product.

The test they put it through in July is a standardised test intended to check whether designs using less fire-resistant materials are safe for use on tall buildings. This was unusual because Vitracore had achieved such a high fire rating in laboratory that designs using it would not be required to undergo such testing automatically.

Valcan disputed the design of the July test and the results it gathered. They also noted that it had previously been part of designs that passed this test.

The test reported on by Newsnight triggered an investigation by the government. An official statement, issued today, noted: "The testing has demonstrated that the product being sold on the market differs from the one tested for certification purposes."

Alan Lamming, sales director at the company, said: "we do not agree with the testing carried out by their chosen test facility, because it is incomplete and therefore inconclusive, and no test data has been shared with us." While they are challenging the government, however, they are withdrawing the product from sale.

The government concern is that the amount of glue holding the product together exceeded the totals specified by the manufacturer. The glue is combustible. Mr Lamming said: "We can confirm that the glue layers are consistent and that our factory is ISO9001 registered and is independently audited."

Image copyright Promotional material from Valcan
Image caption Buildings featured in Vitracore G2 marketing material

Bigger questions

The significance of this result is that it raises questions about a new issue in building safety,

The Grenfell Tower fire has focussed minds on questions about what sort of fire safety rating ought to be required before items are allowed on tall buildings. This is a slightly different issue: whether the testing and certification process is good at making sure a product is as safe as it says it is.

This is an important issue: builders and developers rely on testing and certification services to prove that the materials they are using are safe. The government is also currently consulting on the idea that only "non-combustible" products should be allowed on tall buildings. At the moment, the only official means of identifying such products are tests of the sort that passed Vitracore G2.

Only two tall buildings have been identified as having been fitted with the product in the UK. But, prior to Newsnight's report, had been gaining in popularity. Adrian Buckmaster of Tetraclad, a cladding company, said: "the sort of buildings it's going on to is where existing cladding that has failed the recent tests wants to be replaced with a similar type of finish."

A government spokesperson said: "We have taken immediate action and referred this matter to Trading Standards, contacted the two residential building owners affected and asked the supplier to remove the Vitracore G2 product from the market."