7. BBC Watchdog: Residents Association contacts Bellway

On the 3rd May 2019,  one month before the fire, on the urging of residents of Samuel  Garside house,  the Barking Reach Residents Association (BRRA) wrote to Matt Carpen, director of Barking Riverside Limited (BRL).

“Dear Matt,

“Following the BBC Watchdog programme shown at 8pm on Wednesday 1st May, which exposed Bellway for poorly fitted fire barriers (in wall cavities) which will not prevent fires spreading, residents have asked that the houses and flats built by Bellway on the Barking Riverside estate be investigated to see if there are gaps in the fire barriers here also.

“Experts expressed no surprise at the revelation and told the BBC that the Bellway-built properties that they examined were ‘just the tip of the iceberg’ implying that there was a good chance that our properties suffer the same issues.

“Given the essential fire safety works that RMG, Pinnacle and L&Q have carried out on the flats recently, we would be greatly assured if inspections could be arranged for a selection of houses on the estate, and to know if the flats were inspected for this specific issue, and if not, that this will be done.”

Matt Carpen replied the same day:

“Dear Pete,

“Thanks for your email.  I have passed this on to Bellway directly.  They advised as follows:

“All enquires should be directed to John Enright, Head of Customer Care tel. 0191 2170717 or email firesafetyhelpline@bellway.co.uk

“If you need further assistance in making contact then please let me know.”

The Residents Association chair, Pete Mason, places the following comments on record here:

“Clearly,  it would have been better if Bellway had replied to our query instead of requiring that the I contact them direct. However I did so, left a message,  and the following day John Enright rang me back. He assured me that since fire resistant materials take half an hour to set on fire, under test conditions, the fire brigade would by then have responded to any fire and brought it under control.

“I suggested to him that the Barking Riverside estate is built on a flood plain just beyond the Thames Flood Barrier. Should the area flood during a storm,  and power lines or flooding cause a fire,  which is not uncommon, the fire brigade might not be able to reach the area,  and “the whole estate could burn down”.

“My recollection of this conversation, as set down subsequently in WhatsApp posts to committee members, was that this considerably unsettled Mr. Enright, and he had no answer to it.”

As clearly implied by the London Fire Brigade report, the fire in Samuel Garside House came close to crossing the road and setting fire to the wood fronted houses opposite. The untreated wood on these houses runs continuously along the fronts of the houses, exactly as the wooden balconies did, opposite. Even worse, it runs around the block, and a conflagration of this magnitude might have crossed Galleons Drive, where rows of similarly clad houses stood.

In this scenario, the Barking Riverside estate might well have burnt down in its entirety. This is discussed in more detail in the section: Potential estate-wide conflagration .