An accommodation house in Bolton was on fire

Students were evacuated from The Cube, an accommodation house in Bolton, when a fire started at around 20:30 on Friday 15 November. The Cube is a private accommodation house located in Bolton Town Centre, which opened in 2015.Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said that two people were treated by paramedics on the day, as about 200 firefighters tackled the blaze which engulfed every floor of The Cube. The University of Bolton has supported students currently, moving them into temporary accommodation at the Orlando student halls and in some hotels. Prof George E Holmes DL, president and vice-chancellor of the university, said: “University colleagues have worked through the night to make sure support is in place for students over the weekend. We have also arranged to provide necessities such as toiletries for all students affected and are opening the university over the weekend so students can be supported. We will also provide food for them.” Although no official information has been released about the cause of the fire or why it spread so extremely, the fire has brought back the concern of the safety of a highly flammable material. The material, High Pressure Laminate (HPL) cladding, is a form of cladding typically manufactured by layering sheets of wood or paper fibre with a resin, and bonding them under heat and pressure. They sometimes include additional chemicals to provide fire retardant properties. Following the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017, the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government conducted a test of a cladding system comprising HPL panel with fire retardant. The material passed and it was considered safe depending on the composition of the entire cladding system and how it was fitted. However, the Expert Panel said HPL panels of Class C or D were very unlikely to adequately resist the spread of fire. Buildings with these were then advised to take immediate action. They came to the conclusion that HPL cladding should be banned on new residential buildings of 18m or more. However, because The Cube is 17.84m in height, under current rules there would be no regulation stopping combustible materials being placed on the building. The Fire Protection Association has even called for a complete ban of combustible materials on all buildings – not just high rises. The government has been accused of downplaying the fire risk posed by HPL cladding. According to the Guardian, officials dismissed pleas for the removal of HPL panels similar to that used at The Cube in Bolton just a month ago. In August, flat owners in high-rise blocks wrapped in combustible cladding in other parts of Greater Manchester asked the housing secretary for help to strip their buildings of all kinds of combustible cladding. The response was that money would be made available to remove only the specific kind of aluminium combustible cladding used at Grenfell Tower, and not the HPL cladding used in their homes.Following the recent fires, we sought a comment from UEA to see if they have used HPL cladding in any of their accommodation. In response to this, Customer Liaison Manager Corinne Ashwell said, “We do not have any buildings on campus with HPL (high pressure laminate) cladding. Three of our residential buildings have ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding but this only covers relatively small areas of these buildings and, having been tested to BRE standards post Grenfell, this cladding was found to be compliant. Combined with robust, well-practiced fire procedures and passive and active fire protection measures throughout UEA buildings, the risk of this ACM cladding is considered low risk.” Boris Johnson visited the scene of the fire on Saturday afternoon and briefly met students who had been evacuated.

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October 2021
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