Report finds new build homes ‘not fire safe’
A BBC Watchdog Live investigation found that new homes developed by Persimmon Homes and Bellway Homes have ‘potentially dangerous’ fire safety issues.
BBC News reported on the investigation, which found that new build homes constructed by both companies were sold with ‘missing or incorrectly installed’ fire barriers designed to stop fire spread, with both companies responding that they were ‘addressing the issue’. Industry expert Andrew Mellor commented that such barriers found to be missing was like ‘if you were to buy a new car and you ultimately found that it didn’t have an airbag in it […] it’s an integral safety feature within the home’.
The investigation established that ‘serious breaches have gone undetected during construction’, with Persimmon Homes resident Sarah Dennis – who lives on the Greenacre development in Exeter – having suffered a fire at her home in April 2018 started by a cigarette dropped at ground level, which ‘spread up to the roof of a house, and then to the adjacent properties’. Subsequent investigations at the estate by Persimmon found 37% of homes had fire barriers missing.
Last month, 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 beyond the original area of focus. In March it was revealed that missing fire safety barriers had been confirmed in properties in Cornwall as well as Devon. In total, the inspection programme found over 650 homes in the south west had ‘missing or incorrectly installed’ barriers, with some of these ‘not yet’ rectified, and other homes having ‘still not been inspected’.
The news outlet noted that in Coventry a Persimmon building with 48 apartments was evacuated last year after a range of defects were found, including missing barriers, and some residents are still living in temporary accommodation during repair works. Persimmon responded by noting that since the south west issues ‘came to light’, it has written to 3,200 homeowners in that region and set up a ‘dedicated team’ to undertake inspections, with 2,700 properties having been inspected and 679 having received remedial works, while sample checks were being conducted nationwide.
It added: ‘If these inspections indicate that we need to inspect every timber frame property then we will do so. This should not have happened and we would like to apologise to all affected homeowners and assure them that we are doing everything we can to rectify the issue swiftly.’
With Bellway Homes, the investigation also found ‘potentially dangerous’ fire safety issues in Kent and West Lothian developments, with the Kent homes in a development in Canterbury that experienced a fire in 2015, which spread through dozens of flats and destroyed or damaged 45. Inspections found ‘concerns’ over cavity fire stopping at the Old Tannery, with residents moved out while the ‘improvement works’ are undertaken.
In West Lothian meanwhile, Watchdog Live sent an expert surveyor to a Bellway new build development to check four homes’ fire protection following a resident’s concerns. They had found their house had previously had ‘inadequate’ fire barriers, with the surveyor Greig Adams finding poorly fitted fire barriers ‘at all four properties’, including voids and gaps that would stop the barriers from preventing fire spread.
Mr Adams said the homes were not fire safe, and commented: ‘What we’ve unfortunately found is that there are fire breach issues in every house we've looked at. It’s a legal requirement that the cavity barriers are to be there. It's not optional- and with good reason: it saves lives.’
Bellway responded that it was ‘committed to improvement’, and added: ‘Mandatory training on many subjects, including fire stopping, has been introduced for all applicable construction staff and we remain committed to building quality homes in accordance with all relevant regulation.’
It also noted it was ‘only aware’ of one property in the Scottish development that had barrier concerns, stating: ‘As a responsible builder, Bellway takes our customer’s safety extremely seriously and we will investigate and address any raised concerns immediately, where there is perceived to be an imminent danger to persons or property.’
Finally, it stated that the investigation into the Old Tannery fire was ‘inconclusive’, and that post fire ‘further remedial works were subsequently identified’.