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Bolton Blaze Draws Government Criticism

Fears over fire safety in residential blocks have been renewed following the recent “Grenfell-style” incident in Bolton, in which a fire blazed quickly through the exterior of a building.

The fire, which took place in student residence the Cube, causing two casualties, has brought the government’s fire safety programme under scrutiny.

The incident has raised concerns over a second commonly-used type of cladding, known as high-pressure laminate, or HPL, which was not covered by the government’s investigation following the Grenfell tragedy.

Instead, the government’s response has focused on the aluminium composite material (ACM) panels used in Grenfell, despite experts calling for the urgent removal of HPL from residential buildings back in July. It is thought there are thousands of blocks made using HPL.

Grenfell United, the campaign group formed by survivors and bereaved people following the 2017 tragedy, has called for the declaration of a national emergency due to government failure to improve building safety.

“It brings back memories of Grenfell and we can’t believe that over two and a half years later this is happening. Our hearts go out to all the students affected,” the group tweeted.

“Hundreds of people go to bed scared every night in buildings covered with dangerous materials. When will this be treated as a national emergency? This cannot go on.”

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has praised the actions of the firefighters who put out the blaze, and joined in condemning the “complete failure” of the UK fire safety system, as well as cuts to fire and rescue services.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: “It’s deeply troubling to see fire spread rapidly up a building’s exterior again – a shocking indictment of the government’s shameful inaction after Grenfell.

“This is not how any building should react to a fire in the 21st century, let alone a building in which people live.”

Paul Dennet, the mayor of Salford, described the situation as a “cladding lottery”, adding that they would be asking the government for more money to remove flammable cladding.

The Labour party joined in criticising the government, with shadow housing secretary John Healey saying that the Conservatives would have “serious questions to answer” if the cladding contributed to the spread of the fire.

According to council records, the building was re-clad in 2018, and the decision to use HPL was signed off by private company Asset Building Control – although this is standard practice since the privatisation of building control.

Further concerns have been raised following confirmation by the fire brigade that the building that caught fire is under 18m, and therefore not classified as a “high-rise” building.

This means it would not be covered by the ban on combustible cladding materials, which applies only to buildings that are 18m or above.

Jane Duncan, chair of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said the incident showed that lessons from Grenfell have still not been learnt, and called on the government to take the housing safety crisis seriously.

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