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14 Jun 2022

Grenfell Tower-style cladding still found on UK hotels

A Which? Travel investigation found that holiday accommodation in the UK has numerous fire safety issues – but hotels aren’t regularly checked by fire brigades.

Holidaymakers are unknowingly staying at high-rise hotels which have the same kind of cladding that contributed to the inferno at Grenfell Tower.

After the Grenfell Tower fire, fire safety expert Arnold Tarling said that using the material on residential buildings was ‘like cladding your home in solid petrol’.

It has since been banned for buildings over 18m high, but hotels were not included in the ban. This was on the grounds that hotels are staffed at night and the assumption that they can therefore can be evacuated more quickly in the event of a fire.

Is my hotel a fire risk?

Which? Travel asked local fire services if they are aware of hotels in their area with ACM (Aluminium Composite Material) cladding – the type that was notoriously used on Grenfell Tower. London Fire Brigade, West Midlands, East Sussex and South Wales all told us they were – but most wouldn’t give us the hotel names, citing the risk of arson.

They and other fire services we questioned also told us that they couldn’t be sure that every hotel with combustible cladding is known to them.

Many hotel chains have voluntarily removed cladding from their properties. Premier Inn told us that it no longer had combustible cladding on hotels over 18m. Travelodge said that it does have combustible cladding but ‘our independent fire safety experts have confirmed that all of our hotels are safe to operate’.

Modern methods of construction worry fire safety experts

While combustible cladding has been in the headlines as a result of Grenfell Tower, many experts have concerns about other building methods used in hotels. 

It’s increasingly common for large buildings to be constructed with timber frames but experts that spoke to Which? Travel said that not enough has been done to ensure they’re safe.  A major insurer told us that ‘total loss’ – where buildings are completely destroyed – is more common in buildings with timber frames.

After the Great Fire of London in 1666 timber frames were banned in London and later elsewhere in the country. However, in recent years they’ve become more common as they’re seen as an inexpensive way of reducing the building’s carbon footprint. 

London Fire Brigade also warned about the risks of some Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) where sections of hotels are built in factories and put together on site. It said it has ‘serious concerns about a fundamental lack of research available to provide reassurance on the fire performance of buildings constructed using certain types of MMC’.

Fire safety audits plummet

Hotels and other holiday accommodation can be visited by local fire services for a safety audit, but our research also found that such visits have dropped dramatically. Between 2007 and 2012 there were 7,349 hotel and hostel fire safety audits a year on average in England according to Home Office figures. 

Between 2016 and 2021 that figure had dropped to just over half - 3,899. This is despite the number of hotels and hostels increasing by 38% in the same period. 

The story is similar in Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland there were only 237 fire safety audits carried out in the whole country in 2020.

Private accommodation, such as Airbnb or other holiday lets, are even less likely to be visited.

Which? Travel fire safety visits lead to enforcement action against hotels

Which? Travel visited six chain hotels and found safety issues at five of them. We even ended up reporting two hotels from one major chain to their local fire service. 

Both hotels were then visited by fire officers and one received an official enforcement notice, ordering it to make improvements.