Sutton residential tower block fails fire safety tests

A nine-storey residential tower block in north Sutton which had a multi-million-pound “upgrade” completed only last October, has failed fire safety checks on its exterior cladding.

Chaucer House in Sutton: its cladding has been declared unsafe

The residents of 96 homes in Chaucer House received letters today informing them of the test results on the cladding recently fitted to their block. The letter was sent jointly from the council, the Sutton Housing Partnership, which manages the borough’s social housing, and the London Fire Brigade.

The tests were carried out following the Grenfell House tragedy in Kensington two weeks ago, where 79 people are confirmed as dead or missing, and with fears that that number will rise.

According to the Chaucer House letter, cladding samples were submitted by Sutton only on Monday this week.

“We have now received the results of the testing which has shown that the cladding at Chaucer House … has … failed this test”, the letter states.

Residents in another block nearby, Balaam House on Collingwood Road, which is also managed by Sutton Council’s social housing off-shoot, have meanwhile received a letter stating that their cladding is different from that used at Grenfell Tower and is therefore being subjected to different tests.

So far, every sample of cladding sent for testing from local authorities around the country – a total of 95 from 32 councils – has failed the safety test.

In Sutton’s letter to Chaucer House residents, it states, “We know this will be upsetting and we want to reassure you that SHP, the Council and the Fire Brigade have already assessed the overall fire safety arrangements in place at Chaucer House and are satisfied that your homes are still safe.”

The fate of the residents of Grenfell Tower now haunts those living in many of London’s tower blocks

Chaucer House’s refurbishment, which took three years and cost £13million, “went considerably beyond the regulatory requirements”, according to a Sutton Council statement last week.

In January 2014, announcing the start of the work, Andrew Chalk, a Sutton Housing Partnership official, was quoted in a press release as saying: “Health and Safety within tower blocks is a priority for SHP and in the planning of this project we have worked closely with the London Fire Brigade to address any issues… Decent Homes funding is bringing significant improvements to council homes and our residents and their families.”

This work included the installation of fire alarms and the retrofit of a sprinkler system, thought to be one of the first in a residential tower in the country.

This was undertaken following the recommendations of the coroner’s report after the 2009 Lakanal House fire in Southwark. Despite having had that report for four years, the Government has failed to implement its recommendations, making it a legal requirement that all residential towers should have sprinklers.

Jayne McCoy: originally relied on the council’s records

Nine months ago, when the work at Chaucer House was completed – more than two years later than scheduled – Dickie “Bernie” Clifton, the Mayor of Sutton, hailed the project by saying, “What has been achieved is outstanding.”

Residents might be taking a different view tonight.

It is only a week since, Councillor Jayne McCoy, the chair of Sutton’s housing committee, said,  “Our records show that the cladding comprises different materials than that was reported to have been used at Grenfell Tower, with mineral fibre insulation used at Chaucer House, and galvanised steel used at Balaam House.

“Vertical and horizontal fire breaks were incorporated into the design of these systems.”

According to Sutton Council, Chaucer and Balaam are the only high-rise properties fitted with cladding in the borough. Sutton Housing Partnership is undertaking a fire safety review in another six properties.

The letter sent to Chaucer House residents today

“Both Chaucer House and Balaam House have been fully refurbished and the works were designed and delivered by a recognised major surveying and engineering consultancy and contractor,” McCoy said.

But unlike Chaucer House, Balaam House had no sprinkler system fitted when its cladding works were undertaken.

Its residents have long complained about faulty lifts, poor access to the block for disabled residents and those with children, and the inappropriate allocation of homes on upper floors to those with mobility and health issues.

Meanwhile, in the midst of one of the biggest crises for local authorities in London for a generation, Niall Bolger, the Sutton chief executive, has gone away on holiday for three weeks.

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