Barking fire: developer was fixing fire safety issues and dropped ‘stay put’ policy just months before fire
12 Jun 2019
The developer of the block involved in a devastating fire in Barking last weekend had carried out remedial fire safety work just weeks before flames ripped through the building.
Bellway, the developer of Samuel Garside House, was carrying out a programme of work to “install further fire safety measures” shortly before the fire broke out.
The work started in October and final surveys were carried out at the start of this month.
We understand that much of the remedial work was to fix fire compartmentation issues within the blocks.
As a result of the work, building manager RMG – a subsidiary of Places for People – also alerted residents that the fire policy for the block would temporarily change from a stay put policy to full evacuation policy.
This was still in force on the day of the fire, and a night-time waking watch was employed.
On Sunday, 20 flats were destroyed and 10 were damaged by the fire. Two people were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene but there were no major injuries.
In a statement, the building’s management company RMG and its ground rent company HomeGround confirmed that Bellway had carried out work to fix fire safety issues at Samuel Garside House as well as adjoining blocks Ernest Websdale, John Miller House and Leslie Hitchcock House.
It added that the work had been completed but had yet to go through the full approval process.
HomeGround is a subsidiary of Samuel Garside’s owner Adriatic Land and is responsible for the management and fire safety of the block.
In October, it brought in RMG to replace Pinnacle as building manager.
In a letter sent to residents in the weeks before it took over, RMG said that it had met with key stakeholders of the building, who identified areas which required attention.
This included consultation with fire safety experts that identified a number of communal areas where “further fire protection measures needed to be installed”.
Since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, fire services have advised owners of high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding or where fire safety has been compromised that they should change their evacuation policy from stay put to simultaneous evacuation.
To support the change in evacuation policy, RMG installed waking watch staff in the blocks to check for signs of fire and alert residents, between 7pm and 7am.
Waking watches have been employed across a number of social and private tower blocks with unsafe cladding as a means of ensuring safety.
When asked whether the waking watch was still being employed at Samuel Garside House, RMG and HomeGround confirmed that it was in place and “was to be ended once the Bellway works had been fully completed, certified, and audited by an independent consultant”.
It is understood that work had been completed and an intrusive survey had been carried out for HomeGround earlier this month.
On Monday it was revealed that the cladding used on the Samuel Garside block was a wood-based material called ThermoWood, which has a Class D fire rating.
Government guidance requires a Class B rating for external surfaces of walls on buildings above 18m and limited combustibility, or A2 insulation. Class D is more combustible than both of these. It is understood that Samuel Garside House is below 18m.
Yesterday Bellway said in a statement that it was “highly likely” that it would replace the cladding and the balconies on the Samuel Garside block in order to allay any concerns residents may have”.
A spokesperson for Bellway commented: “The fire at Samuel Garside House in Barking, a low rise block of apartments, is a very serious issue and we are working with all parties to establish how this happened.
“Whilst we are continuing our investigations into this matter, we are supporting London Borough of Barking and Dagenham in securing alternative temporary accommodation for affected residents and are offering our support to help remediate the damaged apartments.
“Bellway continues to take the issue of fire safety extremely seriously and will work with all involved to ensure that affected residents are properly supported during this difficult time.”
We have identified the key organisations involved in developing and managing Samuel Garside House:
Architect: Sheppard Robson
Building owner (headlease): Adriatic Land
Freeholder of land: Greater London Authority/L&Q
Management: HomeGround, which appointed RMG (part of Places for People)
Building control: NHBC
Owner of affordable homes (32 of 80): Southern Housing Group