West London towers fail fire tests

The programme of Government testing on cladding materials on tower blocks has failed several buildings in West London.

The programme follows the tragic fire at RB Kensington & Chelsea’s Grenfell Tower, where at least 79 people are believed to have been killed. The focus of the investigation is on the refurbishment of the tower, and in particular on the insulated cladding panels applied.

In Barnet, cladding added to three towers in Granville Road in 2012 is to be removed after failing the tests.

Barnet Council and Barnet Homes have decided to remove the cladding from three tower blocks in Granville Road, NW2, as a precautionary measure.

Councillor Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council, said: “Following our inspections, we are clear that the overall cladding system at Granville Road is different to what media reports suggest was used at Grenfell Tower. Although the exterior cladding panels are similar to those reportedly used at Grenfell Tower, the insulation materials behind the exterior panels are different and made from a non-combustible mineral fibre material. In addition, fire stops have been installed at each floor level and around each window. The fire stops are also made of a non-combustible material.

“However, in the last days similar exterior cladding panels from buildings outside the borough have failed Government fire safety tests. While the difference in the cladding system at Granville Road mitigates the fire risk, we are not prepared to take any chances with the safety of residents and have therefore jointly taken the decision with Barnet Homes to remove the cladding on the three tower blocks as a precautionary measure.”

In Brent, Octavia Housing has no plans to evacuate or remove panels from Elizabeth House as the London Fire Brigade has advised it is not a risk. Elizabeth House has sprinklers.

Noel Brosnan, Asset Management Director at Octavia, said: “We were assured, and have since been reassured, that Elizabeth House meets all of the building regulations in place at the time. It has a variety of safety features including sprinklers in all flats and at the point of handover from the contractors, we also had a fire strategy drawn up, which the London Fire Brigade (LFB) had input into and final sign-off on.

“Since hearing the news that some of the cladding used at Elizabeth House did not meet the highest standards set by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), we have followed all the procedures set out by the Department of Communities and Local Government and we have 24/7 patrols in place.

“We have had an independent fire assessor visit the site and confirm that no immediate action is required. The London Fire Brigade have also visited the site and have confirmed that they have a good impression of the building and stated it was very well managed and so he can see no need for immediate action nor urgent concern. Residents should be reassured that we are doing, and will continue to do everything necessary to ensure their safety.”

In Hounslow, cladding at Clements Court in Cranford failed the tests, and will be removed. Councillor Steve Curran, Leader of Hounslow Council, said that Clements Court is the only cladded high-rise in the Borough that has used Aluminium Composite Materials cladding, and that: “The insulation material behind (the) outer cladding is a ‘rockwool’ material which is a non-combustible product, unlike the case of the Grenfell Tower, where the insulation was a combustible type.

“The system at Clements Court also differs from that at Grenfell Tower in so far as there was no interference with the interior of the building as part of the installation”.

However, they still plan to remove it. Curran said: “We have …. decided that we will take steps to remove the outer cladding from the building as soon as is practical. We are currently looking into how best and swiftly this can be done.”

Two buildings in Wandsworth – Sudbury House and Castlemaine Tower – have failed the tests, and the council isays it intends to fit sprinkler systems to these two buildings and across their estates to more than 100 high-rise housing blocks. The council has taken the decision to retro-fit this additional fire safety measure in all its tower blocks of ten storeys and above, covering some 6400 homes.

Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia said: “The dreadful and tragic events at Grenfell House have brought this issue into sharp focus and although we do not believe there is a specific risk to any of our high rise properties we are simply not prepared to take a chance.

“We will therefore be fitting water sprinklers to every home in these 100 blocks as quickly as possible so that our residents can be reassured that everything that can be done is being done to protect them, their families and their homes.”

Until sprinklers can be fitted the council is to step up fire safety measures at the two high rise blocks in the borough which have been fitted with the type of external cladding that has now come under scrutiny.

Both Sudbury House and Castlemaine Tower have experienced serious fires in recent years but in both cases the fires were contained within individual flats and did not spread.

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