Manchester

Fears over student buildings across the UK after Bolton blaze

Bolton fire Image copyright GMFRS
Image caption The blaze at The Cube in Bolton broke out on Friday and took more than nine hours to bring under control

A student union has called for urgent safety checks on university accommodation as firefighters investigate the effect of cladding on a blaze which destroyed a block of flats in Bolton.

Students were forced to flee as flames tore through The Cube on Friday.

The National Unions of Students (NUS) has urged the government to audit all cladding that could pose a safety risk.

The government said building owners "must ensure residents are safe".

University of Bolton students were evacuated from the accommodation when the fire broke out at about 20:30 GMT.

About 220 students are set to be re-housed and more than £10,000 has been raised through a crowdfunding appeal to help those who have been affected.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption About 200 firefighters tackled the blaze which broke out at 20:30 GMT on Friday

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) is investigating what role the cladding played in the fire.

It inspected the building in 2017 following the fire at Grenfell Tower in which 72 people died.

It has since been confirmed the high-pressure laminate (HPL) cladding used at The Cube is not the same as the now-banned aluminium composite material (ACM) at Grenfell, Salford mayor Paul Dennett said.

But the Fire Brigades Union warned HPL cladding was "more widespread" than the material found on Grenfell Tower.

'Very worried'

NUS vice-president (welfare) Eva Crossan Jory told BBC Radio 4: "We are aware that there are quite a few student accommodation buildings that have similar cladding.

"We definitely think more need to be done to address the fact that this sort of cladding was allowed to be put on those buildings in the first place. We are very worried.

"Are corners being cut and is students' welfare being put in jeopardy because of costs?"

She added: "We want to see immediate action from government to audit all cladding that could be causing fire-safety issues and remove it immediately if it is likely to exacerbate a fire.

"This should perhaps also take into account buildings that fall below the 18m 'high-rise' definition."

Image copyright Rafaela Nunes/PA
Image caption The fire started on the fourth floor, owners Urban Student Life confirmed

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU said: "There are different forms of cladding that are also flammable and this particular one appears to be HPL.

"Industry reports are that this is more widespread than ACM so we have a much wider problem."

He said there needs to be a "clear plan to remove dangerous cladding".

Image copyright Neil Hart
Image caption One witness said the fire in Bolton was "climbing up" the building

Labour's Shadow Housing Minister has also written to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick outlining 12 urgent questions on building safety.

Sarah Jones said: "Two and a half years after Grenfell it simply beggars belief that the government has left eight in ten buildings covered in the same deadly cladding.

"And it is equally astounding that you neither know how many other types of deadly cladding exist, nor how many buildings are wrapped in it."

A government spokesman said it had "repeatedly made it clear building owners must by law ensure their residents are safe in their homes".

The government said: "We have also provided councils with funding so they can find out the type of cladding on all high-rise buildings in the country, and have tested a number of non-ACM materials, including high pressure laminates, to assess whether any further action is necessary,"

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