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Timber bodies slam ‘failure’ to specify treated cladding at Barking Riverside

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The UK’s leading timber bodies have slammed the apparent ‘failure’ to specify fire-retardant timber on a housing block in east London’s Barking Riverside, following a major blaze

A fire tore through the wooden cladding and balconies at Samuel Garside House, a six-storey block in De Pass Gardens, on Sunday afternoon. 

Following the blaze, which destroyed 20 flats and damaged a further 10, it has been reported that the block was clad in ThermoWood, a material which has a Class D fire rating.

On Monday (11 June) developer Bellway Homes said that, while the material on Samuel Garside House was compliant with building regulations, it was likely to remove it from the rest of the development anyway to ‘allay residents’ concerns’.

The timber industry has now spoken out to criticise the type of wood used on the scheme, arguing that, had it been pre-treated to make it more fire-reistant, it would have ‘performed very differently’.

It claimed whoever specified the materials could have upgraded the cladding to a ’more appropriate’ Class B rating.

The Timber Trade Federation (TTF) and the Wood Protection Association (WPA) said the lack of a flame-retardant treatment, combined with multiple small cross-sections of timber with ‘plenty of air movement around each panel’ had created an unnecessary fire risk.

TTF Managing Director Dave Hopkins said: ’If a comprehensive fire risk assessment had been conducted on this design it would have been clear that additional protection was required in these particular circumstances.’

In the wake of the fire, residents from the Barking Riverside estate are calling for the removal of all wooden cladding, which covers many of the 1,400 homes in the first phase of the huge development.

As a six-storey block, Samuel Garside House is not covered by the government ban on combustible materials in external walls – including balconies – which only applies to buildings taller than 18m.

However an Ministry of Housing spokesperson pointed out that building regulations state that buildings of all heights must ‘adequately resist the spread of fire’. ’It is therefore the responsibility of every building owner to ensure the safety of their building.’

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.

Bellway Homes has been approached for comment.

A spokesperson for Sheppard Robson said: ’We are currently assisting our client with their investigations and are unable to comment further at this time.’

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Could it be that the specifying process somehow failed to include an appropriate risk assessment?

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  • Industry Professional

    Is it me or is the construction industry losing the ability to specify the correct materials?
    Or is that cost pressures are over-ruling everything?
    Or is it that some people are making design changes who do not know the consequences of their decisions, possibly because they only know about cost?
    We all need to learn from this near fatal mistake.

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