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Romford flats with combustible cladding are patrolled by 24-hour fire wardens

PUBLISHED: 17:00 04 March 2020 | UPDATED: 10:01 05 March 2020

The Axis housing development in Mercury Gardens is patrolled by 24-hour fire wardens. Picture: April Roach

The Axis housing development in Mercury Gardens is patrolled by 24-hour fire wardens. Picture: April Roach

Archant

Fire wardens have been employed to patrol a Romford block of flats 24 hours a day after the building was found to have combustible cladding.

The Axis development in Mercury Gardens has combustible cladding. Picture: April RoachThe Axis development in Mercury Gardens has combustible cladding. Picture: April Roach

Combustible cladding in high-rise buildings became a national problem after 72 people died in a horrifying fire at Grenfell Tower, Kensington in 2017.

The Axis housing developments in Mercury Gardens are among many high-rise buildings across the country that have since been found to have combustible cladding.

Vision, the manager of the property, commissioned a report in November last year which highlighted a number of concerns involving the two render systems used on the cladding, the insulated render system and the Trespa (high pressure laminate) rainscreen cladding and the Iroko timber panel rainscreen cladding.

The combustible cladding surrounds all of the 189 apartments and 40 housing association apartments.

Roisin Mahoney, managing director of Vision, told the Recorder: "Many of the buildings are attached and each building facade is considered as a whole.

"Last December building surveyors carried out work to confirm the presence of expanded polystyrene (EPS), which is combustible."

Vision has employed fire wardens to patrol the flats and following advice from the London Fire Brigade, it is looking to install a new integrated fire alarm system that will add heat detectors and sounders to every flat lobby entrance.

Combustible cladding in high-rise buildings was brought to the government's attention after the devastating fire in Grenfell Tower. Picture: David Mirzoeff / PACombustible cladding in high-rise buildings was brought to the government's attention after the devastating fire in Grenfell Tower. Picture: David Mirzoeff / PA

"The fire safety advice we have received from the senior inspecting officer of Havering and our fire safety consultants on November 25, 2019 was to implement interim mitigation measures," said Ms Mahoney.

"One of those fire safety measures is to implement a 'waking watch'.

"The recommendation was that this should also be used as short-medium term mitigation measures to minimise the risk of external fire spread due to non-compliant cladding system (not only ACM claddings) prior to the rectification work in completion.

"The cost to have a waking watch unfortunately will be a short-term burden on the service charge funds until such time we can determine who is liable for the defects."

A 74-year-old resident who has been living in Maxim Tower in the Axis development for nine years, said he still feels "perfectly safe" but that there is a great sense of uncertainty over how much it will cost to replace the cladding.

He said: "It's going to be the same as everybody else - I know it's going to cost us £1million.

"I personally can't see a problem here. I think it's all this performance over the other building catching fire.

"People in here, they can't sell it, no one can buy it and they can't borrow money on it. It's not fair.

"You can't put people like that in a situation where they can't do anything."

The Treasury announced £200million in May last year to fix private blocks wrapped in the specific type of aluminium composite material cladding (ACM) that spread the fire at Grenfell.

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But other properties such as the Axis development have the EPS type which leaves them without clarity over who should pay to remove it.

The Recorder spoke to Havering estate agents who said the apartments in the Axis development have become "non-mortgageable".

Shevonne Lewis, a property consultant at Beresfords Gidea Park, said: "It's cash buyers only.

Picture: April RoachPicture: April Roach

"We have to make people aware [about the cladding] before we take them to see the flats.

"We have to be honest with people because we can't just sell someone something that is dangerous."

Nicoleta Petrova, 39, from Maxim Tower, said she still feels safe.

"Since [the managers] have become aware of this problem they have extra people in the concierge walking around the building 24/7," said Nicoleta.

"You can hear them and meet them.

"Now I double check the house when I leave and take more care than before.

"Because it happened in Grenfell I just assumed that most of the buildings would be the same. I actually feel safer now that we're aware and we can take extra precautions.

The Axis development in Mercury Gardens has combustible cladding. Picture: April RoachThe Axis development in Mercury Gardens has combustible cladding. Picture: April Roach

"To me it was obvious that this building was no different than the other ones."

Once the surveyors have carried out more work, Vision said it will be able to work out costs to replace the combustible cladding.

According to the developer, Barratt's East London, the building was approved for building regulation purposes by Havering Council building control.

A Barratt spokeswoman said: "The development was built in accordance with building regulations and signed off by the local authority as the independent approved inspector at the time of construction.

"We have no continuing involvement in the building having sold the freehold in 2008, but will, of course, help the managing agent however we can in respect to their obligations as the responsible person."

Using its powers under the Housing Act 2004, Havering has requested that the freeholder and managing agent share the information they have with the council.

A spokeswoman for Havering Council said: "The council is aware that investigations are ongoing by the freeholder and the managing agent, Vision Properties, of The Axis in relation to the render and cladding systems used during the construction of their development.

"The council will continue to work alongside the London Fire Brigade to investigate this issue and offer guidance to concerned residents."

Vision said it will soon be holding a meeting for all leaseholders to discuss the findings once further investigations have taken place.

Ms Mahoney added: "Vision has and will continue to work on behalf of the leaseholders at the Axis to resolve this serious matter and we do hope that the government will listen to the concerns of leaseholders to release emergency funding to help make their building a safe."

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