Handover of Dubai projects delayed as authorities get tough on fire safety

About “270 or more” building projects across Dubai have witnessed delays to handover as authorities have become much stricter in ensuring that cladding systems meet building and fire-safety standards, according to experts.

New building codes which will demand higher-rated cladding panels are currently being circulated among consultants, and manufacturers of aluminium composite panels (ACPs), but before these are introduced early next year much more focus has been placed on making sure that existing codes are met.

Zohaib Rahman, the division head of Danube Group’s Alucopanel Middle East business, said the handover of projects had been delayed because of problems in meeting a version of the code that became law in 2012, which requested that not only panels but also the cladding systems into which panels are installed are certified. He was speaking at the launch of the company’s new A2 ACP factory at Dubai Technopark.

“The system requirement is from 2012,” said Mr Rahman. “The code was there, but many people were saying that they didn’t know. They [Civil Defence] are saying that if you don’t know, it doesn’t mean that the law is not existing.”

The Civil defense couldn’t be reached for comment.

David Campbell, the regional director for Thomas Bell-Wright International Consultants which specialises in fire testing cladding systems, said that he did not know the exact figure in terms of projects awaiting approval, but believes that the 270 figure quoted by Mr Rahman “sounds about right”. He said that some of the project delays were from Civil Defence. Delays for other projects were from Dubai Municipality, which is looking at the effect of fires not only on ACP-clad buildings, but all external facades.

Moreover, companies are also “scrambling to test systems on projects that are under construction” to make sure they meet the requirements of the new code, which requires that buildings use the higher-rated A2 ACPs.

The new codes include four tests — three covering panels and another entire systems. One of the panel standards being incorporated — EN13501-1 — not only demands that panels are resistant to combustion, but that they also give off less smoke and do not drip even when placed under extreme heat.

Mr Campbell said that tighter inspection of existing codes was understandable.

“You can let every single one of these buildings finish, and the problem will go on for some more years, or you make the decision to look closely at everything. There’s over 1,000 buildings affected by past events, do they want to add to that with another 200-and-something?,” he asked.

“The best thing is to hold them up a bit and check each one. Not all of those buildings are going to be bad — we’ve done some project basis tests and they’ve passed.

“I know it’s affecting some people, and there’s a lot of people crying at the moment over projects being delayed, but to be honest the government is saying ’safety first’.”

Mr Rizwan Sajan, chairman of Danube group, said that it began work on upgrading its ACP manufacturing plant (which only opened two years ago) last year in anticipation of the introduction of tougher standards for ACPs.

“I’d been looking at this for a long time, but unless and until the Civil Defence approved it, nobody will buy this product,” he said. “This is more expensive than the normal product — about 30 to 40 per cent more.”

However, he added that in terms of the overall cost of a building, it would add between 0.5-1 per cent to budgets.

“To save all of the problems and all the calamities we had in the past, I’m sure that any developer would be happy to pay it,” he said.

The upgrade of the Alucopanel factory to produce A2 panels is costing about Dh100m. Once work is completed early next year, it will have a capacity to produce 4 million square metres per year of panels.

Sharjah-based Mulk Holdings is also in the middle of an upgrade of its Alubond USA plant, which will be capable of producing 6 million square metres of A2-rated panels when it is completed in the first quarter of next year.


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