We need to talk about timber: fire safety design in tall buildings

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Abstract / Description of output

The construction industry is characterised by ignorance, indifference, and lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities.

There is a culture across the sector which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’. There is insufficient focus on delivering the best-quality building possible. This, in May 2018, is how Dame Judith Hackitt described the UK construction industry – with her specific focus on buildings. Her interim report, Building a Safer Future, was intended as ‘a call to action for an entire industry’ – recognising that ‘true and lasting change will require a universal shift in culture'.

The UK government’s immediate response to Hackitt was to ban combustible materials for use in the external walls of residential buildings with a height greater than 18m3. The government’s impact study in support of the ‘ban’ explicitly identified that the engineered timber industry would see significantly reduced growth due to post-Grenfell regulatory changes. Has the use of a material that has been increasingly of interest to the tall building industry suddenly been ‘scuppered’? Why was mass timber not included within the government’s list of exemptions? It would surely have been easy to draft some text to exempt timber from the ban.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
JournalThe Structural Engineer
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2020


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