LCQ19: Cladding material used on buildings

Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Wan and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Michael Wong, in the Legislative Council today (July 12):

In the middle of last month, a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, a residential building in London, the United Kingdom, killing at least 80 people. It has been reported that the use of aluminium panels of an American brand Reynobond with a combustible polyethylene core (RPE aluminium panels) as the cladding material of that building was probably one of the causes for the rapid spread of the fire. However, the use of aluminium panels of that make as cladding material for buildings had been banned in the United States and Germany several years ago. On the other hand, it has been reported that aluminium panels of the same brand have been used as the cladding material for Wing On Centre in Sheung Wan. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as Regulation 39 (Cladding) of the Building (Construction) Regulations (Cap. 123 sub. leg. B) provides that cladding of buildings is to be constructed entirely of non-combustible materials, whether the Government has examined if the use of RPE aluminium panels as cladding material for buildings in Hong Kong complies with that provision; of the number of building works approved by the Buildings Department in each of the past five years involving the use of aluminium panels of that make as cladding material;
(2) whether, since the occurrence of the aforesaid fire, the authorities have (i) inspected if the cladding material used on Wing On Centre is entirely non-combustible, and (ii) assessed the fire safety risk of Wing On Centre; if so, of the outcome; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether it knows the current number of buildings in Hong Kong with RPE aluminium panels having been used as cladding material; whether the authorities will assess the fire safety risks of such buildings?

According to the information currently held by the Buildings Department (BD), the Grenfell Tower in London, the United Kingdom (the UK) used a model of Reynobond's aluminium composite panels. The UK authorities are now conducting a public inquiry on the Grenfell Tower Fire, there is no conclusion on whether the use of such model of aluminium composite panels was a major cause of the fire.

In consultation with the BD, the Development Bureau provides a consolidated reply as follows:
(1) In considering the use of construction materials, including whether the use of aluminium composite panels complies with section 39 of the Building (Construction) Regulations, the BD would consider the case holistically including but not limited to the testing results of the construction materials and building design. The standard of fire safety in a building works is generally premised on a number of considerations, including building materials, installation methods of materials, building design and fire safety installations and equipment, etc., instead of merely on the building materials.  That said, for prudence’s sake, the BD is now reviewing its record with a view to ascertaining how aluminium composite panels are used in building works in Hong Kong.

(2) According to the information currently held by the BD and that provided by the supplier of Reynobond, among all buildings in Hong Kong, only the Wing On Centre, Sheung Wan is using the same brand and model of panel as the Grenfell Tower.

Approval was given by the BD in 1994 to the use of 4mm-thick Reynobond panels in the alteration and addition works of the Wing On Centre. The decision was made after considering the design of the building and its cladding, as well as the test data, including fire resistance, submitted in the application. The data showed that the cladding panel achieved relatively good ratings in terms of controlling flame-spread and smoke-development under the American ASTM E84 standard.

According to the preliminary information currently held by the BD, a 150mm-thick layer of combustible thermal insulation materials was installed between the Reynobond panels and external walls of Grenfell Tower. As for the case of Wing On Centre, the Reynobond panels were installed on the external concrete wall without any insulation materials in between. In other words, there are obvious differences between the Wing On Centre and the Grenfell Tower.

Despite this, the owner of the Wing On Centre has appointed an authorised person and a fire engineering consultant to assess the materials and design of the cladding, and promised to submit the preliminary report to the BD by the end of July.
(3) As mentioned in the Part (1) reply above, the BD is now reviewing its record with a view to ascertaining how aluminium composite panels are used in building works in Hong Kong. At the same time, the BD is liaising with the relevant British enforcement authorities and the manufacturer of Reynobond panels for further details of the incident, including the detailed information of the cladding and the installation method of the panels. The BD will continue to pay close attention to the finding of the public inquiry conducted by the UK. The BD will, subject to these concrete information and the investigation result of the UK authorities, consider if it is necessary to take further follow-up action with respect to the Wing On Centre and other cases of using other brands of composite aluminium panels.

Ends/Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:30