More details on Barking fire reported
ACCORDING TO reports, developer Bellway had carried out ‘remedial fire safety work’ a few weeks before the fire, and also dropped its stay put policy.
Last week, it was reported that residents in the same estate as the fire, which destroyed 20 flats, had 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.
An investigation of other blocks on the development after the fire by LBC found ‘faulty fire doors, broken smoke alarms and combustible cladding’, with Bellway having been ‘in talks’ with the government on building regulations and fire protection laws, adding that fire protection measures inside the building ‘received all regulatory approvals’ and ‘ensured occupants were safely evacuated’.
Claims from residents included 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.
Inside Housing has now reported that Bellway had carried out remedial fire safety work ‘just weeks before’ the fire, with this work having begun in October and seeing final surveys carried out at the start of June. The news outlet added that it understood ‘much of the remedial work was to fix fire compartmentation issues within the blocks’, leading to building manager RMG alerting residents that the evacuation policy ‘would temporarily change’ from stay put to full evacuation.
That was still in force on the day of the fire, while a night waking watch was also on duty as a result, with RMG and its ground rent company HomeGround confirming that Bellway had undertaken the work at Samuel Garside House as well as Ernest Websdale, John Miller House and Leslie Hitchcock House.
The company added that the work ‘had been completed but had yet to go through the full approval process’, with RMG writing to residents when it took over last October to note that it had consulted with fire safety experts. These experts had identified communal areas where ‘further fire protection measures needed to be installed’, while the change in evacuation policy necessitated the installation of the waking watch between 7pm and 7am.
This was to have remained, RMG said, until the Bellway work ‘had been fully completed, certified and audited by an independent consultant’, while Inside Housing also discovered that the cladding on the block was ThermoWood wood based material, which has a Class D fire rating, though only buildings of 18m or above are required – under government guidance – to have Class B or higher.
Bellway stated that it was ‘highly likely’ it would replace the cladding and the balconies on the block ‘in order to allay any concerns residents may have’, adding: ‘The fire at Samuel Garside House in Barking, a low rise block of apartments, is a very serious issue and we are working with all parties to establish how this happened.
‘Whilst we are continuing our investigations into this matter, we are supporting London Borough of Barking and Dagenham in securing alternative temporary accommodation for affected residents and are offering our support to help remediate the damaged apartments. Bellway continues to take the issue of fire safety extremely seriously and will work with all involved to ensure that affected residents are properly supported during this difficult time.’