Wales politics

Council tower block cladding tests demanded by Welsh Government

Grenfell Tower Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Grenfell Tower disaster has prompted a range of fire safety actions from the Welsh Government

All social landlords in Wales are being told to carry out fire safety tests on tower block cladding similar to the material used at Grenfell Tower.

Welsh Government previously suggested testing of cladding was voluntary.

But it has now told BBC Wales that if social landlords think they have aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding it should be tested urgently.

Two areas have ACM in place, according to Welsh Government Communities Secretary Carl Sargeant.

Currently cladding on seven Swansea council towers are being tested. One other area is thought to be testing, although Welsh Government has been unable to tell BBC Wales where that is.

Wales has 36 blocks of flats of seven or more storeys that are used for social housing.

UK ministers ordered social landlords in England to test tower block cladding if it is made of ACM last week - but a similar instruction from Welsh Government to councils initially appeared to be voluntary.

A total of 75 buildings in England had failed fire safety tests since the request from the UK government was made.

Meanwhile, all seven Welsh health boards have confirmed that they are carrying out inspections of their properties.

Where are Wales' social housing tower blocks?

There are:

  • 12 in Cardiff
  • 1 in Anglesey
  • 14 in Swansea
  • 3 in Flintshire
  • 2 in Torfaen
  • 1 in Merthyr Tydfil
  • 3 in Newport

The Welsh Government previously said to BBC Wales in a statement Mr Sargeant "has urged local authorities who want to test cladding to do so" - suggesting the tests were voluntary.

"Swansea Council has decided to test cladding from seven of its 11 tower blocks as a precautionary measure in order to provide further reassurance to tenants, and awaits the results," it said.

But, when asked by BBC Wales why testing was not compulsory, the government said: "We are telling all social landlords to test any buildings they suspect may have used ACM.

"This is the same position as in England."

It said that social landlords across Wales have assured them none of the blocks use Reynobond PE - the specific brand of cladding used at Grenfell Tower.

"If, however, landlords have cladding they think might be other brands of Aluminium Composite Panels then we have made it clear they need to test it urgently," a spokesman said.

The spokesman added the Welsh Government does not have powers to compel private organisations to get their buildings checked.

"However, we are taking steps to encourage landlords of all high rise buildings regardless of their tenure to carry out fire safety checks and where necessary have samples of cladding tested."

Swansea council was asked which of its 11 council blocks are being tested but it has not responded.

Image caption Councils and housing associations are being encouraged to test all cladding on tower blocks

Nine tower blocks in Wales over 10 storeys are run by housing associations.

Community Housing Cymru, which represents the housing association sector in Wales, said the Welsh Government had recommended all cladding is tested.

The Welsh Government offered housing associations the opportunity and support for testing last Friday at the same centre where the procedure is taking place in England - the Building Research Establishment.

'Encouraging to test'

Stuart Ropke, chief executive of CHC, said: "We can confirm that no tower block owned by a Welsh housing association has been fitted with the type of cladding used in Grenfell Tower.

"We are also encouraging members to use the Welsh Government's testing service for all tower block cladding to ensure that it passes fire safety tests."

Cardiff council, which has nine high-rise blocks of which several were over-clad in the 1990s, is currently using an independent contractor to conduct a survey.

Indications so far are that its own cladding is made up of fire retardant materials. The survey will include an analysis of the make-up of materials used, and if anything is needed checking, samples will be sent for checking.

A Cardiff spokesman said: "The council has not carried out any over-cladding work to any of its high rise flats in recent times.

"The buildings are clad with traditional, fire retardant material.

"The council will of course be reviewing arrangements for future schemes to ensure the safety of all tenants."

Cladding is also being checked at Singleton Hospital in Swansea.

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