Building Regulations guidance in Approved Document B, which deals with fire safety, stipulates that external wall constructions should adequately resist the spread of flame.
The wooden balconies did not do that.
The evidence we have presented in this report to our Inquiry demonstrates that residents and the residents association knew the fire risks, the January 2019 fire risk assessment demonstrated it, yet the builders, developers, landlords and their agents Pinnacle and RMG either denied that fire risk or stated that the existing materials conformed to government regulations. This, it seems to us, side-stepped the fact of the real danger revealed clearly by the Grenfell disaster.
As of March 2020, the wooden balconies are in the process of being replaced. Planning permission was approved at the end of 2019 after consultation with residents, which was partially but not entirely successful, a different colour being imposed.
In February 2020, BRL director Matt Carpen had written to the owners of the approximately 233 houses and bungalows with wooden exteriors, stating that work to remove the wood would be discussed with residents in April and alterations would begin later that year. The covid epidemic appears at the time of writing to have cut across that.
At the meeting held by the Barking Reach Residents Association on the 13 June, attended by 200 residents, and those listed in the previous post from government, council, landlords and their managing agents, residents set down in writing their views on the causes of the fire. As stated, two were drawn up by a packed meeting of Samuel Gardside residents held on the Tuesday after the fire.
The resolutions were discussed line by line in a long process of assessment of the problems facing residents. One was unanimously amended when it was pointed out that the government was also to blame and had not been indicted by the resolution. The resolutions were then passed unanimously.
In the critical 24 hours after the fire, it was essential that residents felt that they had a voice, and a set of demands that they embraced to build a pathway back out of the insanity which had so suddenly surrounded and engulfed them.
It was essential that the residents association stepped in and gave them that voice.
On Monday 10 June, the day after the fire, the council granted Pete Mason, the chair of the Barking reach Residents Association, the microphone, at a highly charged meeting organised by the council to discuss the way forward.
He very briefly pointed out that there were new flats already built but unoccupied on the Riverside development which could be put aside for residents. Those that were for London and Quadrant to rent out in the near future should be placed at residents disposal. This was consequently arranged.
In the previous section, On the day of the fire, we record that Resident M contacted RMG about a barbeque on the other side of Samuel Garside House, no more than 40 minutes before the fire ignited on the other side of the block.
This shows two things. Firstly that sooner or later, given the wooden structures, a fire was inevitable, whether through stupidity or an accident – a firework, a kitchen fire. This is confirmed by the London Fire Brigade report, which concludes that the fire could have been started by “any small ignition source.”
Fires happen – a fire took place in the 20-floor tower block in which our chair, Pete Mason, lived for over a decade.
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).
“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.
On the 18 March 2019, the residents association officers called a “Safety Summit” meeting with Barking Riverside Limited (BRL), London & Quadrant (L&Q), Pinnacle Places and Residential Management Group (RMG) at the BRL office in Fielders Crescent, Barking, due to many concerns about safety on the estate.
Neither the residents or the residents association was notified of the results of the fire risk assessment that was carried out on the 28 January 2019.
“If a balcony does catch fire it should be noted that this will accelerate fire spread through either setting the balcony above alight or through entering the flats through open windows and this will put residents and visitors at risk of smoke inhalation and burn injuries”.
On 14 June 2017, a fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats in North Kensington, West London, causing 72 deaths.
The fire risk to Samuel Garside House and its twin, Ernest Websdale House, was subsequently raised many times by both the residents association and residents. Additionally, 233 houses have wood cladding, and numerous flats have flammable cladding or balcony decking.
The London Fire Brigade report into the Samuel Garside House fire, dated 16 November 2019 and leaked in early May 2020, makes clear that the balconies of that block of flats, at 2 Depass Gardens, Barking Riverside, Barking, Essex, did not perform, when subject to test, to the government regulations requiring them to resist fire spread. The fire which took place in that block of 79 flats, the conclusion states, spread due to the “inherent combustibility” of the materials used in the balcony structure.
The Samuel Garside House fire spread rapidly up and across wooden balconies. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, a meeting of 200 angry residents called by the Barking Reach Residents Association, discussed, amended and then unanimously agreed the following:
“That Bellway and the others involved in the construction and management of the estate were negligent because they failed to address their minds to the obvious risk from the wooden constructed balconies and cladding despite previous concerns raised by residents.”
The Samuel Garside House fire took place on the 9 June 2019. It spread rapidly and completely destroyed eight flats and damaged many more. Some saw the destruction of all their belongings, including irreplaceable family possessions.
More than 30 families of the 79 dwellings were displaced for many months. More than eight families are still displaced and will not return until more than one year after the fire took place. It is not possible to describe the distress that was engendered by the fire, the dislocation and the trauma.
We promise, as a residents association, that we will not forget.