Sarah Spink, CEO of the Liquid Roofing and Waterproofing Association (LRWA), explains the importance of collaborative working as the roofing industry battles through a complex period of change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a monumental impact on the flat roofing industry, as well as the entire UK economy. During times of national emergency, it’s easy to forget the underlying issues within our sector, which will still be there for us to face once we are working at full capacity again.

A number of key topics which followed the Grenfell tragedy in 2017 are still being addressed today – new regulation for example which is changing the shape of our industry. Working collaboratively in the background with the Single Ply Roofing Association (SPRA), we have been trying to navigate our way through some complex situations as they stand.
Here is an update on progress which has been made so far.

The Ban on Combustible Materials
This relates to the publication of Dame Judith Hackitt’s report in 2018 which marked the first major step towards raising standards, outlining recommendations relating to all areas of construction. In response to the recommendations, the Government’s first action was to ban the use of combustible materials on high-rise residential buildings in England.
It prohibits the use of combustible materials anywhere in the external walls of high-rise residential building over 18m above ground level and containing one or more dwelling. Scotland followed suit in October 2019, but went one step further by reducing the threshold for compliance to buildings over 11m.

Almost a year later in September 2019, the building regulation in England covering fire safety – Approved Document B – was amended and updated. This stated that any products with membranes forming part of external walls on high-rise residential buildings needed to meet BS EN 13501-1 fire class requirements and achieve a result that deems them non-combustible.
The new rules apply to anything deemed as a ‘specified attachment’, which includes a balcony attached to an external wall, so only non-combustible materials can be used for these structures.

Specifically, Regulation 7 (2) states that ‘…building work will be carried out so that materials which become part of an external wall, or specified attachment, of a relevant building are European Classification A2-s1, d0 or A1, classified in accordance with BS EN 13501-1:2007+A1:2009…’
The problem is that it’s unclear in the new regulations as to what the definition of a balcony is. As specifiers and building inspectors will all interpret the regulations differently, there are many questions that need clarifying. For example, if a mid-level roof terrace is classified as a balcony area, what fire performance would the waterproofing membrane be expected to have? Is the waterproofing membrane exempt under the new rules?

Our Response
To help and guide members through the complex issues they now face following the ban, the LRWA and SPRA held a workshop back in January 2020, with The British Board of Agrément (BBA).

The workshop attracted more than 60 people from both manufacturing companies and contractor firms, as the LRWA and SPRA worked together to support and guide the flat roofing industry through some key areas.
Not only did we discuss the ban on combustible materials, but the event gave attendees the opportunity to look into the Building Regulations in ‘Approved Document B – Fire Safety’ in more detail.

Taking a joint workshop approach enabled both organisations to come together and focus on a common issue affecting their members. This saw collaboration in action, and hopefully more of it to come.

The workshop was just the start of how two different trade associations within the flat roofing industry can work together for the best interest of our members. Since then, we have worked on a number of initiatives, and moved forward with the issues surrounding the ban on combustible materials.

Review of the Ban
Since its publication, the Government is now seeking views on the ban on the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of buildings including specified attachments.

This consultation is extremely important and gives all involved in flat roofing the opportunity to comment on key issues concerning balconies, terraces, abutments and upstands, and how they should be treated from a roof waterproofing perspective to meet the changes introduced in the Building Regulations and Approved Document B for England.

SPRA, in collaboration with the LRWA, formed a response to a number of questions on behalf of the flat roofing industry that will hopefully assist in providing clarification. It was not necessary to answer all the questions in the consultation and therefore the joint SPRA and LRWA response focussed on the main questions that directly relate to flat roofing; 3b,4b,6a,7b,10a & b and 12a & b.

The document was sent directly to all our members, and they were encouraged to review and use it to submit individual responses directly to the Government consultation. The joint LRWA and SPRA document has now been submitted and we look forward to reviewing the Government’s official response to the consultation when published.

In addition to this work, representatives from both associations including Nigel Blacklock, technical chair at SPRA, and Matthew Sexton, market development and technical standards director at BMI (LRWA and SPRA members), have also both been involved in a number of the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG’s) roundtable meetings to discuss clarification needed on the ban.

Additionally, Nigel Blacklock, Matthew Sexton, and Mark Harris, head of technical and operations at Radmat (an LRWA member) have worked alongside the National House-Building Council (NHBC) to make sense of the ban, and work with housing inspectors to develop official guidelines in terms of flat roofing for residential buildings, and how we, as an industry, can affectively interpret the new regulations.

Ronan Brunton, CEO of SPRA (effective 29 June 2020) has said: “Working collaboratively to form a joint response to this important issue has put us in a much stronger position. The MHCLG seemed to have taken on board some really critical issues and we look forward to seeing how it responds to industry feedback.”

Guidance on the Definition of Balconies – BS 8579
With Approved Document B – the building regulation in England covering fire safety – still raising unanswered questions, BS 8579 has been developed to help define what a balcony is.

This British Standard offers guidance on the design of balconies and terraces as well as their component parts. The draft document was sent out for public consultation by BSI (British Standard Institute) in January 2020, and closed in March.

Working with SPRA, we developed a joint response from a liquids and single ply point of view to BS 8579 which was shared to our members and has now been submitted to BSI. The outcome of the public consultation on BS 8579 is due to be published in August 2020, and any updates will be issued directly to our members.

Our Actions for Members
Living with the COVID-19 pandemic has meant a lot of projects and initiatives have been put on hold. But at the LRWA and SPRA, we are committed to ensure the voice of the flat roofing industry remains strong, and we have a healthy and stable sector to build upon once the pandemic is over – no matter when that might be.

In the flat roofing industry, we all share a common goal and we are stronger when we work together. Between the LRWA and SPRA, we have represented the majority of the flat roofing and waterproofing sector in some major areas which will have a direct impact on our members in the future, which is why we are passionate about collaborating for change.

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