Local council seeks £40 million following retirement complex fire

A local council has launched a £40 million lawsuit against several contractors after one of its freehold properties was destroyed by fire.

Home to around 150 elderly residents, Beechmere Retirement Village in Crewe succumbed to a large blaze in August 2019. The fire had been started by ‘hot works’ that were being carried out by a roofing contractor on the top floor of the building. Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) dispatched 16 fire appliances to tackle the blaze, with staff later admitting “It’s clear that the fire wasn’t behaving in the way that we would expect”.

CFRS concluded its investigation into the cause of the fire in mid-2020 but stated that the results would “form an important part of the ongoing fire safety investigation”, adding that “it would not be appropriate to provide any further details at this time”.

It has now come to light that Cheshire East Borough Council, along with developer Avantage and housing association Your Housing, has taken legal action against several contractors over an alleged inadequate level of fire safety, which caused the fire to spread rapidly through the timber-framed complex. 

The following contractors have been named in the lawsuit:

  • GB Solutions Limited (main contractor)
  • PRP (architects)
  • Prestoplan (subcontractor)
  • WSP (fire engineering consultant)
  • Mascot Management (agent and clerk of works for main client Avantage)

The three claimants are seeking £40 million in damages. As reported by Building the council believes there were clear “deficiencies in the design and construction of the property”. This includes a lack of compartmentation and missing cavity barriers and sprinklers. All this meant that the “spread of fire was not stopped”.

The lawsuit was launched in October 2019 but has only recently come to light following a preliminary judgement taken by the Technology and Construction Court (TCC) to replace two of the expert witnesses involved in the case. It is also believed that one of the defendants, GB Solutions (a subsidiary of MJ Geeson), which was dissolved in 2015, has allegedly “never participated in the proceedings”.  

According to Architects’ Journal, a spokesperson for Cheshire East Borough Council confirmed: “Aviva PLC is pursuing a claim on behalf of Cheshire East Council, following the fire at the Beechmere care complex in August 2019. Whilst litigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.

The court proceedings had initially been planned for April 2023 but have now been postponed until April 2024. Construction News notes that case will determine whether the design and construction of the premises were “adequate to prevent the spread of fire”. It will also look at the property’s compliance with Building Regulations and if it “should have contained sprinklers”.

Following the devastating effects of the fire on its residents, Avantage indicated it would rebuild the retirement complex, with a planning application having been already approved by the council. The developer confirmed that the new complex would include “safety improvements”, including an integrated sprinkler system and wider corridors.


(Photograph by Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service)