MINISTERS are under increasing pressure to deal with a cladding crisis in Scotland as it emerged that over 100 local authority high rise buildings have potentially deadly cladding four years after the horrifying Grenfell Tower blaze that claimed the lives of around 80 people.

Research by the Herald on Sunday has revealed that around one in seven blocks of flats in Scotland overseen by local authorities have the combustible material.

It comes amidst criticism that the Scottish Government has not spent a penny of up to £450m available in the last year to deal with the problem.

At least 85 high rise blocks and over 130 other buildings, mainly schools overseen by Scotland's 32 local authorities contain high pressure laminate (HPL) panels which safety experts have raised serious concerns over.

Official analysis of local authority high rises carried out last year seen by the Herald on Sunday show that a further 23 of Scotland's 774 high rise buildings reported polyethylene type ACM panels (ACM-PE), another combustible material, similar to that found at Grenfell. A further 15 buildings reported "limited combustibility".

Sprinklers or other forms of automatic fire suppression equipment were reported in only just over one in three (39%) of high rises.

There are a reported 46,530 flats in high rise buildings overseen by local authorities across Scotland - nearly half were built in the 1960s.

Thousands more flat-owners in Scotland are also estimated to have had their privately owned homes rendered worthless because they are wrapped in flammable materials.

One study shows that residents of flats with cladding and other unsafe building materials are paying an average of over five times more for building insurance that they were a year ago, adding thousands to annual service charges.

Of the 32 local authorities in Scotland, North Lanarkshire Council has the most HPL in its public buildings, with 33 of its 48 tower blocks and 41 school buildings containing the cladding. It is now assessing its council housing stock in the wake of new guidance by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors suggesting use of use new forms to assess the fire safety of housing blocks.

The guidance is the result of a deal agreed with the government last November designed to help an estimated half a million flat owners by ensuring that blocks without cladding systems are not caught up in the fallout from the Grenfell Tower fire, which has left many facing huge repair bills and unable to sell their homes.

Aberdeen City Council is the majority owner of 18 18 high rise residential blocks which contain HPL cladding which it said was resistant to the spread of fire and hinders smoke development.

Edinburgh City Council is responsible for 15 high rise block and 16 schools with HPL. Falkirk has 11, West Dunbartonshire had six and Dundee and Glasgow said is has one tower block with HPL.

In February, UK housing secretary Robert Jenrick agreed to pay a further £3.5bn to remove cladding from hundreds of thousands of unsafe high-rise flats in England. It came on top of £1.6bn in funding that was announced in March, last year.

A near £100m remedial fund granted to the Scottish Government by the UK treasury as a result of that has yet to be spent from the first round is understood to be yet to be spent. And under the Barnett Formula ministers can expect a further £350m from the new UK government fund.

But the Scottish government has said it will not follow the UK government's "piecemeal approach" for funding to remove unsafe cladding.

The Scottish Tenants Organisation has urged ministers in a letter to use the money to remove "dangerous" flammable cladding from existing buildings saying that it is "imperative that all homeowners in Scotland are given the required financial help"

READ MORE: Health chiefs insist flammable Grenfell cladding 'no risk' at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital

Property management company Apropos by DJ Alexander has also criticised the slow response to dealing with the crisis.

Meanwhile ministers have so far failed to deliver the results of a a nationwide survey of publicly owned buildings which might have widely used HPL ordered 15 months ago. The deadline for information from public bodies was February 22, 2020 and was to include tower blocks, entertainment buildings, care homes, colleges and universities, hotels, schools, NHS Scotland buildings and Scottish Prison Service buildings.

The Herald:

The horrifying Grenfell Tower blaze is the subject of an inquiry

A separate detailed High Rise Building Inventory aimed at collating the key aspects of the construction and fire safety features of high rise domestic blocks is also believed to have been delayed and is now expected in the summer.

The Scottish Government's building and fire safety working group was told at the end of last year that because of Covid-19 it was not feasible to complete by the spring of this year. It was proposed that the HRI update should be postponed till spring, next year, but this was rejected.

Researchers from the Imperial College London and Warsaw’s Building Research Institute in 2019 found that HPL cladding failed fire safety tests 80 per cent of the time, while the category of cladding similar to that blamed for the rapid spread of the catastrophic fire at Grenfell failed 60 per cent of the time.

The two types of cladding were the most flammable categories assessed by researchers in was then the most comprehensive study to date.

HPL panels are typically made from wood or paper fibre layered with resin and bonded under heat and pressure.

READ MORE: Health chiefs tried to remove 'safe' Grenfell insulation from Queen Elizabeth University Hospital three years ago

The government-run safety programme was launched in the aftermath of the June 2017 Grenfell fire, which caused the deaths of 72 people.

But it had initially focused on removing aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, used on Grenfell, from other buildings.

The version used on Grenfell was a particularly flammable type of ACM with an untreated polyethylene core but the government has said that other variants of the same cladding, including those intended to be fire retardant, may also be dangerous.

In a two-year-old advice note the UK Goverment said that much of the HPL cladding on high-rise buildings should be removed ue to the fire risk The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government note said HPL panels with European classification B, C and D installed alongside combustible insulation were “very unlikely to adequately resist the spread of fire”.

Building owners with these systems should immediately take action,” it added, referring especially to buildings that were more than 18 m in height.

The Herald:

There have been significant fires involving HPL cladding.

HPL window panels were used on Lakanal House, a building in south London where six residents died in a fire in 2009.

The safety of HPL panelling came under fresh scrutiny when in November 2019, a fire raced through a student accommodation block, The Cube, in Bolton. Witnesses said the blaze spread rapidly across the cladding identified by local politicians and planning documents as HPL.

Last year, a test commissioned privately by the Metal Cladding and Roofing Manufacturers Association (MCRMA) found that HPL burned almost as rapidly as the aluminium and plastic panels blamed for the disaster.

Dr Jonathan Evans, a member of the MCRMA, said: "My conclusion is that no HPL is suitable and should be acceptable to valuers on high rise. "The middle ground of 11-18m is more debatable.

"If you took a cautionary approach, you’d replace the HPL with fibre cement and the super risk-averse would replace the insulation, especially if the building is timber frame - which is very common in Scotland.

"The fire performance of a combination of timber frame, combustible insulation and HPL (of any grade) is highly dependent on high quality workmanship and design details, and therefore a recipe for disaster in my view."

Richard Hull, a professor at the University of Central Lancashire, who published the first in-depth study of the combustibility of popular cladding and insulation materials warned that the next Grenfell-style disaster will be in a building clad with HPL materials, after publishing a study showing that it burns 115 times hotter than non-combustible options.

He found in 2019 that HPL cladding materials release heat 25 times faster and burn 115 times hotter than non-combustible products.

The Herald:

The Mineral Wool Insulation Manufacturers Association has warned ministers that there were "many combustible facade materials in common use" other than ACM and HPL "All such materials should be identified and remedial works urgently undertaken as necessary," it said. Leith-based law firm Watermans Legal is setting up a Cladding Crisis in Scotland online advice event on Thursday to support particularly those who have been hit by selling, buying and the mortgaging of properties.

Shawn Wood, a solicitor at Watermans Legal who will be speaking at the event, said: "We’re receiving a growing number of calls from people with concerns about their properties and the incurring costs which is why we felt it was necessary to host this event. It’s an opportunity to gather Scotland’s cladding experts and share our knowledge with the public.

"Sadly, residents have inherited these problems through no fault of their own.

"“If all homeowners were to fix the problem of combustible cladding it could cost tens of thousands of pounds per property which leave many concerned that they will be left to foot the bill if their building is found to have combustible cladding."

The professional body for Scottish solicitors has called for a Scotland-wide assessment of cladding on high-rise buildings to be carried out by the Scottish Government.

John Sinclair, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s property law committee, said: “Without a system in place to generate comprehensive, co-ordinated surveys of potentially affected buildings, we have no real idea as to how big an issue it actually is and no meaningful and fair remediation scheme can be costed or put in place.

“Under the Barnett Formula further funding will flow to the Scottish Government and we would urge Scottish ministers to use some of those funds for surveys of Scotland’s high-rise buildings to move this complex and difficult issue forward.

“The current situation has left many flat owners very concerned about the safety of their buildings and a number have been unable to sell their properties. Affected owners have been in this situation for long enough and deserve to see progress.”

A letter to ministers from the Scottish Tenants Association says it was "complacent, negligent and inexcusable of ministers to "ignore" the studies on combustible cladding and criticised the lack of spending.

Its campaign co-ordinator Sean Clerkin said: "The Scottish Government utterances show a complete reluctance to spend money to remove dangerous cladding and insulation from buildings in Scotland.

"It is just a matter of time before we suffer in Scotland our own Grenfell tragedy when the politicians could have acted sooner."

The RICS guidance could see more than 500,000 leaseholders no longer needing an EWS fire safety check before selling their home.

The RICS has set out new parameters on which buildings need the highly controversial checks needed by banks and building societies before issuing a mortgage. The government has claimed the new rules could ensure 500,000 leaseholders no longer need to go through the process.

The parameters include removing the need for EWS checks on all buildings of four storeys or below, but only if they are not clad in ACM, other metal composite materials (MCM) or high-pressure laminate (HPL).

The action was taken by RICS due to thousands of flat sales being held up or falling through due to lenders refusing to issue mortgages on multi-occupancy buildings without the seller providing an EWS form to prove a check has been carried out.

A spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council said: “We’re aware that new guidance from RICS has been issued relating to HPL cladding and we are currently assessing our council housing stock to identify if there are buildings which require a EWS1 form to ensure we comply with the guidance. We have in place robust safety and monitoring procedures for all our buildings in line with the latest health and safety guidelines.”

An Edinburgh City Council spokesman added: “Like all other local authorities we’ve been asked to provide the Scottish Government with the numbers of buildings we have with this cladding, which we have done. We’re also planning to carry out fire risk assessments on all of our buildings found to have it and this work has already begun.”

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “I am very concerned by the difficulties being faced by people living in buildings with external wall cladding, who have concerns about safety, or who are unable to buy, sell or remortgage their homes and I understand the anxiety that this is causing.

“The Scottish Government has sought to understand the prevalence of high pressure laminate cladding across a number of sectors and a summary report is currently being prepared. Building owners and managers will be able to use Scottish Government guidance in the form of a Scottish Advice Note on fire risk posed by external wall systems to help them understand and manage any risk posed by external wall systems, such as cladding. This guidance will be specific to Scotland and published in the summer."