Barking residents say safety concerns were ‘ignored’

Barking residents say safety concerns were ‘ignored’

RESIDENTS IN the same estate that saw a large fire destroy 20 flats in Barking last weekend have claimed that prior concerns over fire safety ‘have been ignored’.

The fire at the Barking Riverside Estate saw one six storey block catch fire, with 20 homes destroyed and 10 others damaged, and two people treated for smoke inhalation; 100 firefighters and 15 appliances attended. LBC, The Guardian and the Evening Standard all reported on the fallout, with LBC’s own investigation of other blocks on the development having found ‘faulty fire doors, broken smoke alarms and combustible cladding’.

Its reporter attended a neighbouring block with fire safety expert Arnold Tarling, who stated: ‘There are vertical timbers, which the fire will spread up, we have horizontal decorative timbers and you have horizontal decking timbers. And the only thing separating them is a piece of flammable plastic to stop items dropping through. Now this is built like a crib that you would use in fire testing because wood burns pretty well, and you've got a perfect bonfire here.’

In response, a spokesperson for developer Bellway Homes commented: ‘The recent fire at Samuel Garside House in Barking, a low rise block of apartments, is a very serious issue and we are working with all relevant parties to establish how this happened and help deal with those affected. The construction and design of Samuel Garside House minimised the spread of fire into the building itself and facilitated its safe evacuation.

‘Notwithstanding this, we are looking at further fire safety measures which may include replacing the timber cladding and balconies in order to provide peace of mind to residents at Samuel Garside House and neighbouring Ernest Websdale House. When any building is completed the required fire safety information is handed over to the managing agent as Responsible Person under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to enable them to arrange for the necessary ongoing fire risk assessments to be conducted by their nominated expert.

‘Where issues are identified as part of this fire risk assessment, such as those noted in your report, action should be taken in accordance with the fire risk strategy for the block. As a responsible developer and in light of the issues you have raised, we will look at the building with the building owner and the Responsible Person to see if there are further steps that we or others should be taking.’

A London Fire Brigade (LFB) spokesperson added: ‘The building owner is responsible for fire safety measures and needs to maintain an up to date fire risk assessment. We are working with the local authority, building company and the management company to address any fire safety issues to ensure residents feel safe when returning to their homes. Our fire safety team has carried out a visit to both the affected block and a neighbouring block of the same construction.’

Later, it was reported that Bellway was ‘in talks’ with the government on building regulations and fire protection laws, with it adding that fire protection measures inside the building ‘received all regulatory approvals’ and ‘ensured occupants were safely evacuated’. Bellway chief executive Jason Honeyman also noted that ‘we will have a presence on site until all residents are back in their homes and feeling safe. We are in dialogue with the Ministry of Housing to understand whether any lessons can be learned with regards to the future evolution of building regulations.’

Despite this, The Guardian featured claims from residents that concerns about fire safety ‘were downplayed’ by Bellway ‘only last month’, with Peter Mason, chair of the Barking Reach residents’ association, stating that in early May he contacted Bellway to ‘ask for the fire risk to be investigated’ after BBC Watchdog’s investigation into other Bellway Homes properties.

The news outlet was shown an email from Bellway’s fire safety helpline that told Mr Mason ‘not to worry’, with a section headlined “Your Home” stating that the construction method used on the development featured on BBC Watchdog ‘was different and so the Barking homes were not affected in the same way’. It concluded: ‘We understand that these news articles are highly alarming for all residents of new homes and I hope that the above statement has allayed any fears you may have over the safety and construction of your Bellway home.’

Mr Mason claimed that the fire ‘may have been caused by a barbecue being lit on one of the balconies’, while neighbouring resident Venilia Batista Amorim claimed in turn that ‘some said the fire alarm was not working, the sprinklers were not working, residents knocked on neighbours doors to tell them to leave. It does not come as a surprise, so many residents are concerned’.

Finally, Mr Mason stated that the block’s managing agents had hired a fire warden to carry out patrols due to ‘unspecified concerns about fire safety’. Inside Housing noted that Housing Secretary James Brokenshire confirmed to parliament that the Building Research Establishment and LFB had been asked to investigate the fire, while he had also asked for ‘urgent advice from the government’s independent expert panel.

Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, responded: ‘Allegedly – and this is so shocking – that timber had not been treated. What I have been told is that the regulations are such that, because the building was only a six-storey building and therefore not 18 metres or higher, there was no necessity to have that sort of regulation – that is shocking. How on earth can that be possible in this day and age?​’