Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 130)

TUESDAY 20 JULY 1999

DR STEPHEN LEDBETTER AND MR CHRIS BUNTAIN

  120. Do you think there is a need for a regulation?
  (Dr Ledbetter) I am not fully aware of the circumstances at Irvine. These are rare events and they should be kept in perspective. I suspect that, if we were to have the regulation, we would have to carry out tests every time we went to do a project.

  121. You talk about the need for fire testing but what does it cost for one of these tests?
  (Dr Ledbetter) The costs of the tests are not clear. I am not well placed to tell you the cost of commissioning the tests but you have to understand that if you ask anybody who conducts tests what the cost is you have to add to that the cost of making the specimen. You have to build a three storey piece of wall.

  122. If I were to say to you that the cost could be anything between £10,000 and £20,000, the cost of recladding a building is about ten million, so the cost in real terms is minimal, is it not? Therefore, to have the test done before the installation of any of these systems would seem to be a fair way forward, would it not?
  (Dr Ledbetter) The cost of running the test is not £10,000 to £20,000. In the case of Irvine where they simply replaced the windows, to do an effective test we would have to make a part of that building. It has been there for 20 years so how do we make those existing panels and put the windows into them to test them? It is complex and expensive.

  123. Is it not the case that, while you are trying to suggest that it is the cost of the actual test that is the barrier, the real barrier is that in industry they would need to have a change to the product line?
  (Dr Ledbetter) No, that is not what I am suggesting. If we take the Irvine case, there are many windows that could have been used in that building. It would be possible to select windows with different performances and that is a matter for the purchaser, the client.

  124. If as a company, which you are, you were told that there had to be a change made to your product line, that would be a fairly substantial cost implication to you so you would do anything, would you not, to have that happen to your company?
  (Dr Ledbetter) I am not a company; I am a research organisation.

Mr Gray

  125. You are employed by the manufacturers.
  (Dr Ledbetter) I am employed by manufacturers and by clients. I am a membership based organisation. I have local authorities and manufacturers.

  126. Your wages are paid by people who manufacture these things and it might be argued that you have a reason for defending them.
  (Dr Ledbetter) And by people who use them. I would say I was independent for that reason.

Mr Donohoe

  127. Even although you are not particularly a single company, you are therefore representing the industry. Is it not the case that if there were to be recommendations after fire testing and in every instance there was to be one and it had cost implications of some enormity, it would affect your—?
  (Dr Ledbetter) My experience of the industry is that provided there is legislation or standards which are universal then manufacturers will change their products to comply because it is just an added cost to the cladding which is passed on. That they can handle. What they cannot handle is confusion where, even if they wish to improve their product as many do, they are undercut by people in the market who do not comply. The industry would like a level, clear field on which they could produce a good product.

Chairman

  128. Are you saying we have that now or not?
  (Dr Ledbetter) No, we do not have that because we do not have agreed standards. We have different standards for different products.

  129. You think we need agreed standards quickly?
  (Dr Ledbetter) If we had agreed standards and they were universally agreed and applied, then the cost would just be a cost to the client, the local authority or the owner of the building.
  (Mr Buntain) My understanding is that there are no regulations which cover the fire performance of windows, apart from providing means of escape. This was not an issue in this case. There is nothing, to my knowledge, within the regulations of any part of the United Kingdom, which would have impacted on Irvine or any other window that has been installed throughout the whole of the country. They are not tested, as I understand it, for fire, largely because there are other parts of a window which are even more fire reactive, such as the glass. The glass always breaks and that is a hazard in itself. It is a hazard to fire fighters, apart from anything else. They are not tested and therefore there is probably no legislation at the moment which would have been able to be referred to by the Irvine authority when it came to replacing these windows. They would not turn up a book and say, "Ah, here is the regulation that applies."

  130. Should there be some regulations then that apply to windows?
  (Mr Buntain) It may be that this has to be addressed.
  (Dr Ledbetter) It would be very difficult to write legislation for windows in domestic properties to be fireproof because people want them to open for reasons of ventilation. You cannot make people keep the windows closed. Therefore, you are going to get spread of fire through a window. You have to understand that windows fulfil many functions. The primary ones are ventilation and light, not preventing fire.
  (Mr Buntain) If you want no problem, make the window a wall. You cannot do that.

  Chairman: On that note, I think we had better finish this session. Thank you very much indeed.





 
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