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Safety fears at torched Barking flats ‘first raised after Grenfell’

Concerns about cladding were brought up almost two years ago, a member of the residents’ association said.

Residents have previously raised safety concerns about the block of flats in Barking (PA)
Residents have previously raised safety concerns about the block of flats in Barking (PA)

Safety concerns around a block of flats ruined by fire on Sunday were first raised in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it is claimed.

Fears about cladding were voiced almost two years before the blaze which destroyed 20 flats and damaged 10 more at a block in Barking, east London, a residents’ association member said.

An investigation is under way after the building, part of the Barking Riverside development, was engulfed on Sunday.

Bellway Homes, which built the flats, said: “The fire yesterday 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.

“We understand that the blaze was contained to the external envelope of the eastern elevation of the building, with initial reports suggesting that it was caused by a barbecue on a resident’s balcony. We are relieved that the fire protection measures within the building, which received all regulatory approvals, ensured that occupants were safely evacuated.

“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.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan visited the scene on Monday as an emergency meeting was held for residents, many of whom remained unable return to their homes in adjacent blocks until they were deemed safe.

Venilia Amorim, treasurer of the Barking Reach Residents’ Association, told the Press Association: “Several residents, with the help of the residents’ association, have been raising concerns since the Grenfell Tower fire two years ago.”

Friday marks two years since Grenfell Tower, in Kensington, west London, was gutted by fire, killing 72 people.

Ms Amorim said buildings in the Barking development, including both flats and houses, are covered with a wooden cladding which residents were told was safe.

But the speed the fire spread has raised fresh questions over the safety of the materials, she said.

“The wooden cladding is everywhere,” said Ms Amorim.

“We have got a lot of residents now not wanting to go back to their homes, not even to the adjacent blocks, because there’s no guarantee that this won’t happen again.”

She described a similar block nearby as a “mirror image” of the gutted flats, adding: “One of the concerns now with this building is there is a huge temporary heating system outside of one of the entrances and that’s on diesel.”

Nobody was hurt in the fire, but a man and a woman were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

Fifteen fire engines and 100 firefighters were called to tackle the blaze, at De Pass Gardens, which broke out at about 3.31pm and took several hours to bring under control.

Barking and Dagenham Council set up rest centres for evacuated residents and has endorsed a fundraiser for people affected.

Council leader Darren Rodwell said: “In the aftermath of the fire yesterday, residents are understandably concerned about the safety of their homes.

“I have spent the whole day with residents and support staff at the community centre and the site of the fire.

“Earlier today I joined representatives from London Fire Brigade and other organisations to give residents the very latest information and reassure them that we have arranged accommodation for them over the next three nights.

“We are doing all we can to make sure residents who have lost their homes are as comfortable as possible and have access to services that will help them through this difficult period.”

Speaking in the Commons, Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said she feared “people would have died” had the fire taken place at night.

The MP for Barking said it was appropriate a “proper investigation” takes place, adding: “It absolutely shocked me that the fire alarms that should have been in place and operating were not working, and there were no sprinklers on this block of flats because they were not considered necessary.”

Dame Margaret said timber was used in a “decorative way” and raised allegations that it “had not been treated”, adding: “What I’ve been told is the regulations are such that because the building was only a six-storey building and therefore not 18 metres or higher there was no necessity for having that sort of regulation. That is shocking.”

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said he would visit the development on Monday evening, adding the matters raised by Dame Margaret are subject to investigation.

He said: “I can assure her that I have asked the BRE to provide technical expertise on investigating the reasons for the speed for the fire spread.”

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