Fire hit flats ‘still at risk’ from ‘missing’ compartmentation

31 October 2019

Residents on the Worcester Park estate in London, which saw a block burn down last month, ‘have been left at risk’ because of ‘missing or useless’ compartmentation.

BBC News reported on the issues identified on the estate, where a block burned down in September, and noted that it had established ‘apparent flaws’ in two other buildings constructed by the same developer – Berkley Group – that would ‘allow fire to spread quickly’. While the company responded that all the properties had been ‘independently signed off’, the housing association for The Hamptons estate has amended its stay put evacuation policy after advice from London Fire Brigade.

According to former resident Stephen Nobrega, the fire’s spread was more less instant. It was like paper. You would expect that the materials would contain a fire for a considerable amount of time, but it just didn’t happen’. The news outlet noted that the timber frame homes on the estates require firestopping ‘to prevent the spread of fire’, and while there were no injuries in the blaze, residents ‘believed they just about escaped in time’, with a number losing their homes.

As a consequence, the development ‘has since been on high alert’ with 24 hour waking watch patrols, and housing association Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH) said it had ‘fitted smoke alarms in the electrical cupboards of all our blocks’. Two independent surveyors have now assessed another building on site, and found fire would ‘spread at speed’ there due to missing compartmentation.

Arnold Tarling found a ‘large gap between the fire stopping and the cladding’ which he said would act as a ‘chimney through which a fire will spread. What we have here is a form of fire stopping which just won’t do its job’. In turn, Greig Adams said the breaches had ‘consequences, including a considerable increased risk to life in the event of a fire. The provision of effective fire barriers is a mandatory requirement, not an element that can be shoddily thrown together or to cut corners on’.

Previous residents including Sheila Majid said that they had contacted Berkley Group ‘years ago’ over fire safety concerns, with Mrs Majid hiring an independent inspector in 2005 who discovered ‘similar problems’ with compartmentation that meant ‘our home did not meet basic fire safety requirements’. She managed to sell the property back to the company, but ‘remained concerned’ that other properties built by the group had ‘similar problems’.

Another one of its developments in Kent saw a block of flats destroyed in a 2017 fire, with Mr Tarling investigating a loft space in another property on that estate – Holborough Lakes – and finding similar issues to Worcester Park, adding: ‘There needs to be a full investigation of these properties, not only by the contractor but by the authorities.’

A spokesman for the Berkley Group said that ‘all properties were independently signed off as building control compliant’, and added that in regard to the September fire ‘the police and the fire brigade are still investigating the cause of the fire, which remains unknown’, while the group was ‘making all necessary checks to reassure residents’.

Additionally, a spokesperson for the National House Building Council said that it was the approved inspector for Worcester Park, and had ‘carried out periodic inspections at key stages’ of construction, adding however that ‘the primary responsibility for achieving compliance with the regulations rests with the builder’.

MTVH noted that it had commissioned surveys of all buildings it either owns or manages, with chief executive Geeta Nanda commenting: ‘It’s our absolute priority to ensure we provide residents with the support and help they need at this difficult time, and making sure that the homes throughout The Hamptons are safe.’

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Fire hit flats ‘still at risk’ from ‘missing’ compartmentation