Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
TUESDAY 20 JULY 1999
60. How are you funded?
(Mr Field) We are funded now by commissions coming
from clients in Government and the private sector. The work we
do for government is funded through one of three arrangements.
One arrangement is part of the so-called "guarantee"
following the privatisation of BRE, in which the Department is
obliged to invite BRE to undertake a programme of work up to an
annual minimum value. The second route is by the Department issuing
multiple tenders for research and clearly whoever wins that research
will take it forward. Thirdly, there is the Partners in Technology
research competition which embodies partial funding from government,
usually 50 per cent, and other members of the industry.
61. Overall, what percentage comes from clients
in Government and the private sector as compared with the Department?
(Mr Field) In respect of the fire safety that we undertake,
I would suggest something of the order of 15 to 20 per cent.
62. If I can go back to one of the answers that
you gave, in 1994/95, after you had completed what I understand
was Department funded research into this problem, what was the
conclusion and advice to the Department by you?
(Mr Field) The conclusion of the initial research
was that there needed to be a far more embracing programme of
work in which we had the industry on board because there were
significant issues here for the industry. That led to the research
programme, again partly sponsored by government, which was the
Partners in Technology programme, which concluded in 1997/98 and
led to the development of the test method. There was no specific
advice given at the time of the initial research that was undertaken.
(Mr Rich) After the incident at Knowsley, as a manufacturer,
we saw it as a very serious position.
63. Did you manufacture the material used at
(Mr Rich) No. By October 1991, our company had commissioned
three full scale fire tests in the FRS laboratory to reassure
our customers, both past and future, of our products' performance.
There was no test method available but it is very similar to the
test method that has been developed today. Industry was much more
reactive to that incident.
64. After the incident at Irvine, I do not know
if your company particularly supplied any material for that?
(Mr Rich) No.
65. After that incident, did you not think that
the manufacturer of that particular material should be asking
for and perhaps paying for research to be undertaken?
(Mr Rich) Certainly, if he has a responsibility.
66. Mr Field, you made a comment a few minutes
ago about a disparity between the commercial interest and the
public interest. Could you expand on what you were referring to
(Mr Field) That is a difficult question. One has to
recognise that the work of the Departmentand I am speaking
for them hereas I understand it, in respect of the approved
document, is concerned with matters of life safety. There may
well be a lot of issues relating to life safety in respect of
fire which it is appropriate for the public purse to pay for.
I would certainly wish to comment on the responsible attitude
of the cladding industry following the Knowsley fire and here
again today. There is no doubt that they have been very responsible
in coming forward and working with us and with government in respect
of developing an appropriate test method.
67. You do not feel this is unsolvable?
(Mr Field) I do not think so, no. The Department,
at the end of the day, will have a certain responsibility to the
public to ensure that essential life safety issues are dealt with
and I believe they do that quite well. The responsible industry
I think does take these issues very seriously indeed as well.
I do not think commercial issues get in the way.
68. Would the test method that has been devised
be enough to stop fires in in-fill situations like Irvine?
(Mr Field) The test method can be adapted to examine
the fire performance of the systems we believe to have been involved
in the Irvine situation and would have been able to predict whether
or not the circumstances that did occur at Irvine would have occurred.
69. What are your views on systems that were
established before the current regulations were in place?
(Mr Field) This is a difficult one because we do not
have enough information on what systems are out there in the public
(Mr Morris) These problems are not new. The first
possible problem with plastic on the outside of buildings goes
back to the late 1950s. Full scale tests were done at the LCC
before they introduced plastic clad high rise buildings in London.
I do not know if they are still there but if you are round by
Paddington Station there were many tower blocks near Paddington
with GRP cladding. The situation has been constantly under review
70. Is anyone responsible for holding information
about the condition of buildings and the set up before the regulations?
(Mr Field) I do not think we know the answer to that.
71. You were in when the previous witnesses
were giving evidence. Their view was not terribly favourable towards
the tests for assessing the fire performance of external cladding
systems. Why do you think that was?
(Mr Field) There may have been a slight misunderstanding
there. There was certainly a comment made about the current test
methods that were in the approved document, which is basically
that which is looking at the spread of flame in BS476 type testing,
which would then provide Class O ratings. My own feeling was that
they were relatively favourable towards the full scale test that
we have developed. It was the small scale test that is currently
in the guidance that they were concerned about.
72. As far as you are aware, there have not
been concerns raised by manufacturers about the costs, for instance,
of the full scale test?
(Mr Field) Not at all. Manufacturers have been working
and supporting the initiative in this respect. At the end of the
day, because this has now gone out for public comment through
the British Standards Institution, any modifications in respect
of criteria and costs and scale will come back before it becomes
a fully fledged standard.
73. Mr Rich, your company will not be putting
in a submission expressing concerns about the costs of these tests?
(Mr Rich) No, we will not.
74. You would not expect any of your competitors
(Mr Rich) They have been involved with it as well.
We see it as an industry wide problem.
75. When you say you see it as an industry wide
problem, does that mean that almost all manufacturers of cladding
material want to see a solution to this or are there vested commercial
interests in particular systems?
(Mr Rich) I am only talking on behalf of the ventilated
rain screen over cladding type of system. There are, as far as
I know, three major producers in this country who were involved
with the development of the test method.
(Mr Field) I think it is worth noting that the Partners
in Technology research programme, which basically has led to this
particular test method, was responsible for bringing together
three of the key manufacturers of these systems in the United
Kingdom who commercially are clearly in competition with each
other. It was a very high accolade for that particular programme
of work for that to happen.
76. On the whole question of fire safety, is
the legislation really outdated? Ought there to be a new Fire
(Mr Field) I am not sure I can actually comment on
(Mr Morris) The legislation is very simple indeed.
The Act of Parliament is a simple, functional requirement. What
many people have been referring to as regulation is in fact advisory
material in the approved documents which have exactly the same
status as the Highway Code.
77. So you do not think we need a new Fire Safety
Act? I understand the Assistant Chief Fire Officers' Association
has been pressing the government to allow parliamentary time for
a new Fire Safety Act.
(Mr Morris) We have at the moment a very, very flexible
78. That is somewhat ambiguous.
(Mr Field) On reflection, I think it is very important
to recognise that, should there be any changes in respect of legislation,
it is very difficult to detach the responsibility for the building
regulations in particular from life safety in respect of fire.
79. What has been suggested to us is that the
building regulations perhaps are all right to start with but,
because materials deteriorate, a problem develops over time.
(Mr Field) This is the so-called ageing process?
14 Note by witness: There has been a significant
reduction in funding of fire safety research in recent years as
a result of changing government priorities. Back