29 Jun 2022

Column: Kilkenny’s cladding analysis must be expedited by property owners

Darren Hassett writing in this week's Kilkenny People...

Grenfell Tower

Grenfell Tower

Writing in this paper in September, Kilkenny County Council was lauded by this columnist for their diligence and pro-activity around identifying any cladding on buildings in the county.

Three properties in Kilkenny were found to have the material which means the structures in the county make up just over 1% of the national figure of 262 tall buildings which have cladding.

Nevertheless, these buildings needed to be looked at, first by the Council - who carried out a site visit. Then the onus fell on to the property owners to carry out a fire safety assessment of the cladding, but three months on and there’s still no sign of a safety analysis forthcoming from them.

For some context on cladding and why there’s so much fuss over it, first of all, it is a covering on a structure, the material is often used to insulate buildings and also used in part to improve their appearance.

It was used in the Grenfell Tower block and blamed for the rapid spread of the fire which killed at least 80 people in London.

The material on Grenfell Tower was found to be defective and failed safety tests which prompted a widespread review across the UK with many buildings’ cladding ripped down.

That same review was ordered here by our Government with a letter sent to local authorities on July 4 of this year. An appraisal was then carried out and off the back of this we now know cladding was found on three Kilkenny structures.

So far, so good. The potential for fire safety problems has been identified. One aspect of the audit was that Councils identify buildings greater than six storeys or more than 18m in height fitted “with some form of external cladding”.

Eleven such properties were identified in Kilkenny and three of these have a residential element to them and “these 3 have a limited amount of cladding”.

The Council said back in September that the owners of these properties were contacted in respect of their fire safety obligations and the owners said they would carry out the necessary assessments.

This week the Kilkenny People has revealed that the owners were contacted on August 24. This newspaper has obtained copies of the three missives sent by the Council and they are unequivocal.

The details of the correspondence with property owners reveals the amount of time that has lapsed since the cladding was identified and the wait for an outcome of that analysis is what’s concerning. The properties are required to carry out their own fire safety assessment and report to the Fire Authority.

It’s important to note that the fire safety constitution of the cladding on the Kilkenny properties is not known. But the argument being made here is that it should be known by now.

What’s not acceptable is almost twelve weeks have passed and the Council have confirmed that they are“still awaiting the outcome of the fire safety assessments” – three months after the initial survey.

Now, the Council’s fire authority are the experts and they do say that “it is a quite technical issue which will involve time and the engagement of fire safety consultants”.

That’s fair enough, but it’s three buildings and three months is three months.

The process must be expedited so that we know whether the cladding is defective or not.

The residents of the properties in Kilkenny, as well as the general public, have a right to know; and soon.

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