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Residents call for removal of timber cladding after fire at Barking Riverside

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Residents on the Barking Riverside estate in east London are demanding the removal of all timber cladding after a serious fire at a Sheppard Robson-designed new-build housing block at the weekend 

About 100 firefighters attended the large blaze at the block on De Pass Gardens on Sunday afternoon. 

An investigation has been launched into the cause of fire, which destroyed about 20 flats and damaged a further 10. A man and a woman were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

As the blaze took hold at Samuel Garside House, residents shared images of its timber-clad balconies going up in flames on social media.

Residents’ association treasurer Venilia Batista Amorim, who lives in a house opposite the block, said residents had written to the builders Mace and original developer Bellway Homes to express concerns about the timber cladding. 

’We were reassured that all of the wood that was used was within legal requirements, she said, adding: ’We received an email saying the materials were fire-retardant and residents would have half an hour to escape. But videos show the building bursting into flames in three minutes.’

Batista Amorim said the association would now launch a campaign to remove all the wooden cladding which covers many of the 1,400 homes in the first phase of Barking Riverside. 

She said: ’We need to get this removed. Something like this had to happen for us to be heard.’

As a six-storey block, Samuel Garside House is unlikely to be covered by government ban on combustible materials in external walls – including balconies – which only applies to buildings taller than 18m.

Fire expert Sam Webb said the 18m threshold was too high and that, had the fire occurred 12 hours later, ’we would have woken up to a death toll to rival Grenfell’.

He pointed out that balcony fires were becoming more frequent and said the problem was the government’s fire safety building regulations, known as Approved Document B.

’Ministers who have power to change it have sat on their hands, saying these are difficult technical issues best left to the experts. The experts are their advisers who got us into this mess in the first place. They are not going to admit mistakes. The ministers know it; the experts know it. So nothing changes except people get promoted and any inquiry can be stretched to infinity.’

The Mayor of London has said the fire at Barking Riverside was ’shocking’ and could easily have resulted in fatalities. He called for a fire safety review at the housing development. 

’This incident highlights both City Hall’s total lack of powers over private building owners and the woefully slow response from the government and developers to the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower – two years on, residents in blocks of flats are still living in fear that their buildings are unsafe,’ he said.

The Mayor added he would be ’pushing for vital changes’ to be made on the estate to make sure residents’ safety is ensured. 

Sheppard Robson, in partnership with MaccreanorLavington and KCAP, designed the 45ha phase one masterplan for the first chunk of 10,800 homes at Barking Riverside, one of the UK’s largest recent residential regeneration schemes.

The properties were built in 2012 by developer Bellway Homes but L&Q took over its stake and is now joint venture partner on the wider scheme with the GLA. 

Samuel Garside House was later sold to investors Adriatic, though some units are also owned by Southern Housing Group.

LFB Deputy Commissioner Richard Mills said: ’Fire crews and our fire investigators will be at the scene throughout the day (Monday, June 10) to fully investigate and understand all of the circumstances of the fire.’

A spokesperson for Sheppard Robson said: ‘We are unable to comment at this time.’

Bellway Homes and L&Q were contacted for comment.

D8oci0owsay yay (1)

D8oci0owsay yay (1)

Source: London Fire Brigade

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • Industry Professional

    Something has gone terribly wrong with this timber cladding. It should not have burst into flames so quickly. We can only be thankful that no one was seriously injured or worse.
    I fear that it may take years before it becomes clear whether something was wrongly specified or whether an inadequate alternative was applied or even if the treatment was missed completely. We may even never know such is the blame culture that exists. I hope others can throw some light on this. Please speak up TRADA!

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  • Re Sam Webb’s pertinent comment in the article, on 14/08/2017 I wrote the following. It still appears that fear of blame is holding up sensible measures, not least checks on ALL cladding types already installed. Particularly that only surface spread of flame was required, not incombustibility, if a fire resistant backing wall was present. And that for many reasons culpability probably lies, as the Webb notes, with a series of ministers and their advisers. My comments are not just about Grenfell type cladding, but about the whole issue of the Building Regulations, fire and the building envelope.
    “14/08/2017:-Your article notes that "some aluminium composite cladding complies with Building Regulations". It’s about time the AJ got its facts right. The cladding panel used on the Grenfell tower meets the CURRENT Building Regulations because it was certified class 0 by Warrington. The test certificate was available on the internet. The regs are so badly written that the term "filler" was not generally interpreted to, and probably not intended to, apply to the cladding panel, but only the cavity behind. The panel only needs to be class 0 rather than non-combustible. When the Association Of Building Control officers issued an advisory note on this several years ago they inadvertently changed the wording to correct the regs without drawing direct attention to it. Over 6 years ago the minister was asked in the strongest terms to change the regs and refused to treat it as an urgent matter, see below. The AJ dedicated to the Grenfell fire did not confront this salient and primary matter. Culpability lies there with the minister. The Building Regulations continue to allow the flammable panel to be used, (14/08/2017), several months after the fire, even though everyone now knows the panel’s shortcomings.

    20 June 2017 London Loves Business Article:
    “The BBC has seen letters that show four separate government ministers were warned that fire regulations were not keeping people safe.
    The leaked letters show experts warning that those living in tower blocks like Grenfell Tower were “at risk”.
    At least 79 people are dead or missing presumed dead after the fire last week.
    Panorama has also learned that firefighters put out the initial flat fire in Grenfell Tower - but couldn’t stop the flames spreading outside.
    Leaked letters
    The letters show experts have been worried about fire safety in tower blocks for years.
    Following a fatal fire in Lakanal House in south London in 2009, a series of recommendations were made to keep people safe.
    They were ignored. The government promised a review of regulations in 2013, but it still hasn’t happened.
    Panorama has obtained a dozen letters sent by the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group.
    Informed by experts, they warned the government they “could not afford to wait for another tragedy”.
    Four ministers received letters but didn’t strengthen the regulations.
    Ronnie King, a former chief fire officer who sits on the group, says the government has ignored repeated warnings about tower block safety.
    “We have spent four years saying ‘Listen, we have got the evidence, we’ve provided you with the evidence, there is clear public opinion towards this, you ought to move on this’,” said Mr King.
    After six people were killed at Lakanal House in 2009, the coroner made a series of safety recommendations for the government to consider.
    Ministers promised a review in 2013, but it was soon delayed.
    In March 2014, the parliamentary group wrote: “Surely… when you already have credible evidence to justify updating… the guidance… which will lead to saving of lives, you don’t need to wait another three years in addition to the two already spent since the research findings were updated, in order to take action?
    “As there are estimated to be another 4,000 older tower blocks in the UK, without automatic sprinkler protection, can we really afford to wait for another tragedy to occur before we amend this weakness?”
    After further correspondence, the then government minister - Liberal Democrat MP Steven Williams - replied: “I have neither seen nor heard anything that would suggest that consideration of these specific potential changes is urgent and I am not willing to disrupt the work of this department by asking that these matters are brought forward.”
    The group replied to say they “were at a loss to understand, how you had concluded that credible and independent evidence which had life safety implications, was NOT considered to be urgent”.
    “As a consequence the group wishes to point out to you that should a major fire tragedy, with loss of life occur between now and 2017, in for example, a residential care facility or a purpose built block of flats, where the matters which had been raised here, were found to be contributory to the outcome, then the group would be bound to bring this to others’ attention.”
    The letters were written before the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.
    Former cabinet minister Eric Pickles received a letter about fire regulations from the parliamentary group in February 2014.
    He had also been asked to look at fire safety in February 2013 and March 2013 by two separate coroners, investigating two tower block fires.
    In December 2015, the all-party group wrote to the former Conservative minister James Wharton, and warned about the risk of fires spreading on the outside of buildings with cladding.
    “Today’s buildings have a much higher content of readily available combustible material. Examples are timber and polystyrene mixes in structure, cladding and insulation…
    “This fire hazard results in many fires because adequate recommendations to developers simply do not exist. There is little or no requirement to mitigate external fire spread.”
    Further calls for action were made to former Conservative minister Gavin Barwell, now Theresa May’s top aide, in September last year.
    In November 2016, Mr Barwell replied to say his department had been looking at the regulations, and would make a statement “in due course”.
    The fire experts asked for the government statement to be brought forward.
    In April 2017, Gavin Barwell wrote to say he did “acknowledge that producing a statement on building regulations has taken longer than I had envisaged”.
    The government today said there was still no timetable for a review.

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  • ps, the last line of my comment above is from 2017, being the end of that quote.

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  • Timber rainscreen cladding, if indeed that was the application method used, coupled with funeral pyre decking is proof positive of the UK's incapability of designing safe timber structures. Perhaps our fire prevention services are also laggard in this regard.
    Ditch the Building Regulations and adopt the International Building Code.
    There!! I've said it again.

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  • As a footnote to the Atticus chronology, Eric Pickles was - after the Lakanal House tragedy - elevated to the house of Lords.
    This might seem surprising, but then it's surely equally surprising that Boris Johnson is apparently thought fit to lead the country by enough of our current government to make him the bookies' favourite.
    Sad (and disgraceful) but true - perhaps one day he'll be Lord Garden Bridge.

    To add to Ian Cadell's comments, should insurers have a say in building standards - and their reform?

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  • This is not just about combustible cladding or in this case wooden balconies. It is about an inherent fault in the design of buildings which has never been addressed by the Building Regulations. Holes in the outside walls of buildings do not normally have any resistance to fire.

    Windows and doors in the external walls of flats usually repeat themselves on each and every storey of the building.

    Fire, smoke and the heat generated rises up the face of a building; the glass in the windows shatters at fairly low temperatures and the fire spreads into another flat. More fuel for the fire which increases in scale and intensity and so on and so on until all the fuel has been used up and the fire burns itself out or it is doused by firefighters before it gets out of control.

    This type of fire spread happened at Garnock Court, Lakanal House, Grenfell Tower, and in many other fires in high rise buildings. Combustible cladding certainly helps with the fire spread but the specific physical nature of fire means it will always spread upwards faster than in any other direction.

    Banning combustible cladding in itself is unfortunately not going to prevent further deaths in fires in high rise buildings.

    Every year there are between 200 and 300 deaths in fires in the home. Again the Building Regulations do little if anything to prevent this. Why aren’t buildings fitted with sprinklers or other fire suppression systems? Is it because of powerful lobby groups with vested interests, who are fortunate enough to have the ear of experts at Whitehall or government ministers?

    Or am I just an old cynic?

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