NIHE: No Grenfell Tower-style cladding on our tower blocks

The charred shell of Grenfell Tower in London
The charred shell of Grenfell Tower in London

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has declared that it can now “categorically state” it does not use the same style of cladding in its own tower blocks as the kind used on Grenfell Tower.

Inspections of Housing Executive tower blocks have been happening since last week, ever since serious fears were raised about the possibility that Grenfell Tower’s newly added cladding panels on its outer walls helped to spread the deadly blaze.

However, while stating that the cladding used in its own towerblocks is different to Grenfell, the Housing Executive also acknowledged that wood makes up some of its cladding – albeit a “very small part”.

At least 79 people died after fire broke out at the 24-storey west London tower block in the early hours of June 14.

The cladding on Grenfell Tower was made up of sandwich-style panels; sheets of aluminium with a kind of insulation filling in between – possibly a type of plastic.

Colm McQuillan, director of housing services at the Housing Executive, told the BBC last Thursday that, as far as he knew, Grenfell Tower-type cladding had not been fitted to any high-rise flats in the Province – but that the matter was being checked out.

Cladding projects have been taking place at two tower blocks in the New Lodge, north Belfast – something the Housing Executive said “improves the thermal efficiency of the building” and also “provides a protective outer skin to protect it from the elements”. One of these is already complete.

In addition, two tower blocks in east Belfast (Whincroft House and Carnet House, in Castlereagh and Dundonald, respectively) are being clad.

In answer to questions from the News Letter, the Housing Executive has now said: “We can categorically state that the two cladding systems in use in our tower blocks are not the same as that used in the Grenfell Tower block in London.

“We know this as we have received correspondence from Department for Communities and Local Government in London (via the Department of Communities).”

It received this correspondence on Monday.

There are 32 tower blocks run by the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland in total.

They are defined as buildings which are either six-storeys-plus, or higher than 18m (59ft).

Asked if there are any other properties which may have the Grenfell-type cladding on them besides tower blocks, it said: “We have a small number of domestic dwellings, ie houses, that have external wall insulation. These are not similar to the type used in Grenfell Tower.”

The cladding on the east Belfast tower blocks are proceeding, and after that the Housing Executive said it has no plans to clad any others.

Last week, a report in the Irish News quoted a resident of one of the newly clad New Lodge flats as saying that the “entire block is covered in a layer of wood” – specifically, that the cladding is affixed to the building with sheets of plywood.

Asked about this point, the Housing Executive said there is indeed timber in some of the cladding – but only on the balconies.

“At no time was any timber used in our cladding systems except at the balcony areas where infill structures were required, but these were considered to be outside the actual envelope of the building,” it said.

“This would be a very small part of the whole surface area of the building.”

Meanwhile, a book of condolence for the victims of last week’s fire at Grenfell Tower was opened at Belfast City Hall on Tuesday.

The book – officially opened by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Nuala McAllister – is available for signing in the main reception of City Hall during normal opening hours.