Persimmon accused of building ‘intolerable’ fire risk homes
THE HOUSEBUILDER was found by an independent review to have experienced a ‘systemic nationwide failure’ to install firestopping cavity barriers in its homes.
In April, it was revealed that Persimmon was inspecting ‘hundreds’ of homes in Plymouth, whose residents had ‘initially’ been told that their properties ‘weren’t affected’ by missing compartmentation. Earlier this year, a resident in a block of flats built by Persimmon in Exeter claimed his pet python’s escape and discovery ‘exposed fire safety breaches’ in ‘missing’ fire safety compartmentation.
Persimmon later admitted that it was inspecting a ‘wider area of properties’, with inspections broadened out. In March missing barriers had been confirmed in properties in Cornwall and Devon, and the inspection programme found over 650 homes in the south west had ‘missing or incorrectly installed’ barriers. In May a BBC Watchdog Live investigation found that new homes have ‘potentially dangerous’ issues, including being sold with ‘missing or incorrectly installed’ fire barriers.
One Exeter estate had 37% of homes missing fire barriers, and the investigation established that ‘serious breaches have gone undetected during construction’, while a 48 apartment Coventry building was evacuated after defects were found. It was then revealed that nearly 50 new builds in Kent were to be inspected due to ‘concerns’ over whether ‘adequate’ fire safety measures have been installed correctly in roofs, and in September homes in Barry, Wales were found to have the same issues.
The Guardian has now reported on the independent review – commissioned by Persimmon - by Stephanie Barwise, of law firm Atkin Chambers, which found that Persimmon was leaving customers exposed to an ‘intolerable risk’ of fire, and had experienced a ‘systemic nationwide failure’ in terms of installing cavity barriers. The report also noted that the failure to meet minimum building standards was a ‘manifestation of poor culture’ at the company.
It urged company directors to ‘reconsider Persimmon’s purpose and ambition’, as it has a ‘nationwide problem of missing and/or incorrectly installed cavity barriers in its timber-frame properties’. Despite having ‘reacted quickly’ to the issue, Persimmon has only inspected the eaves of properties, ‘and not assessed whether the same problem was occurring in party walls and around windows and doors’.
The company has undertaken over 16,000 inspections, and said it would take ‘all reasonable action to identify and remediate every house’ affected. Despite this, the report established a ‘culture of non-observance’ to safety checks, with staff having treated them as a ‘mere box-ticking exercise […] stemming from a belief that any single stage is not important, as another check or inspection will follow later’.
It added: ‘There is a need for a fundamental change in Persimmon’s culture to ensure that quality of build and customer service are central to its approach to business and its corporate identity. Persimmon’s culture must change: many of Persimmon’s employees, customers and stakeholders wish Persimmon to change, and in a changing regulatory environment, Persimmon cannot afford the stigma of a corporate culture which results in poor workmanship and a potentially unsafe product.’
Bonus and pay policies should be ‘consistent’ with ‘purpose and strategy’, and in conclusion, it said the company ‘has traditionally been more a land assembler and seller of houses’ than a housebuilder, with former leaders ‘motivated’ by bonuses that ‘were widely perceived as excessive’.
Persimmon’s chairman Roger Devlin responded by noting that it was ‘prioritising the customer over the pure profit motive’.
He also stated: ‘The review clearly shows that the surest route to improved customer satisfaction is through the delivery of consistent build quality and service and we acknowledge that we still have work to do. As we focus hard on the changes that we are making, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise once again to those Persimmon customers who have been affected in the past.’
The Negotiator added that the report was ‘likely to expose construction failings across [the] industry’, and that the ‘fire safety scandal threatens to engulf’ the sector due to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s criticism of the company. He released a statement commenting that the company ‘will want to take immediate action to address the concerns raised’, while highlighting a need for greater home buyer protection and plans to establish a housing ombudsman.
A spokesperson for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government added that going forward house builders ‘which did not meet the required standards of safety and quality might not be given access’ to Help to Buy funds.