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Housing

‘They knew about this’: Residents’ fury at New Providence Wharf fire findings

Leaseholders have called for action after fire chiefs found timber balconies spread fire rather than cladding while ventilation system turned building into ‘broken chimney’

Residents at Poplar high-rise New Providence Wharf have called for legislation to hold property developers accountable after a London Fire Brigade (LFB) report into last month’s fire found serious failings.

Around 40 people were injured in the fire at the 19-storey London block of flats on May 7, including two men who were treated in hospital.

In a preliminary report released on Tuesday, LFB found aluminium composite materials (ACM) cladding – a significant factor in the Grenfell Tower disaster – was not to blame for the spread of the fire, instead timber balconies were behind the serious blaze. The only exit to the building through the stairwell also became “smoke logged” after a “serious failure” in the smoke ventilation system.

London Fire Brigade deputy commissioner Richard Mills said:  “The smoke ventilation system inside New Providence Wharf acted like a broken chimney leading to a potentially life-threatening situation.

“Despite our response to this fire and drawing on the many lessons learned from the Grenfell Tower fire, in many cases we are sadly still not seeing a culture change in all those responsible for fire safety in high rise buildings.  

“The New Providence Wharf fire needs to be an urgent wake-up call to all building owners and managers. Look at the fire safety solutions inside your building and take action if they are not performing correctly. It is too late to wait for a fire to see if they work.”

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The LFB findings revealed the blaze started in a fuse board at an eighth-floor flat before spreading to the ninth, 10th and 11th floors before the 125 firefighters on the scene got the fire under control.

In total, 67 people self-evacuated from the burning building before fire crews arrived and a further 34 people were rescued at the scene. Paramedics treated 37 residents while a person who lived in the flat where the fire started was taken to hospital with minor burns and another was taken to hospital with minor smoke inhalation.

But LFB warned New Providence Wharf developer Ballymore the building’s “automatic opening vent system” failed to extract smoke from the building. LFB urged all building owners or managers, especially those using simultaneous evacuation procedures rather than urging residents to stay put, to check ventilation systems “as a priority”.

Following the release of the findings, angry residents told The Big Issue legislation is needed to force developers to fix fire defects in residential buildings and to ensure leaseholders do not pick up the bill.

The government cannot continue to ask developers to ‘do the right thing’, they must legislate to save lives and livelihoods Natalie Carter, New Providence Wharf resident

Natalie Carter, New Providence Wharf resident

Yasmin Naqushbandi, leader of the residents’ association at New Providence Wharf, told The Big Issue: “I’m so angry. They knew about this and they are pretending it is something new.

“They have enough information. They have highly intelligent people working as advisors. ministers are elected. They have a responsibility. And from where I see it, everybody’s fudging that responsibility. Everybody’s petrified here, kids are petrified.

“The housing ministry has got loads of civil servants who could tell you all this and probably are advising but nobody is listening. It’s fine passing the buck over to developers but they are there because you let them be. If you haven’t got enough powers then create them. It is a complete lack of leadership.”

Meanwhile, fellow resident Natalie Carter told The Big Issue she exited the building after being told about the fire through a residents’ WhatsApp group after the waking watch system in place at the building could not reach upper floors.

Carter said residents are paying £47,000 a month for a “waking watch” of fire marshals to patrol the building and alert residents in the event of a fire.

She said: “It is extremely alarming to have confirmed the sheer number of failures reported in the LFB report. The waking watch was not effective, and what the report doesn’t say is that the waking watch was doubled in the wake of the fire, a measure which feels punitive to the victims.

“Ballymore confirmed that they would cover the cost of the replacement of timber balconies, which just three days before the fire they had advised would be charging the £3.1m to the leaseholders.

“Ballymore had said they were under no legal obligation to pay, and this is key – the government cannot continue to ask developers to ‘do the right thing’, they must legislate to save lives and livelihoods.”

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A Ballymore spokesperson told The Big Issue work is underway to remove cladding from the façade of the building, which is made up of around 22 per cent of ACM materials.

“We are grateful to the fire service for their prompt reaction to the incident on May 7 which ensured that all residents were safely evacuated in a timely fashion,” the spokesperson said.

“The safety of our residents is everything to us. Since the fire of May 7, we have inspected the fire prevention, detection and mitigation systems in all of our properties to ensure all are in working order.

“We will work closely with the fire service, our professional and scientific advisers, and our residents to assist with the ongoing investigation.”

A Government spokesperson told The Big Issue: “We will carefully consider the findings of this report and we are working closely with the London Fire Brigade and regulators to ensure any lessons from the incident are learned and implemented across the country.

“It is vital that building owners act on their responsibilities to protect residents and ensure buildings are safe.

“As Ballymore has received £8m government funding to remove unsafe ACM cladding, it is deeply disappointing that they took so long to begin work at New Providence Wharf.”

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