Tower developers used loophole to avoid fitting sprinklers

BARRATT HOLMES reports on the half-million-pound-plus Croydon flats which are 40 storeys up but which were built without any sprinkler system

At 43 storeys, Saffron Tower is Croydon’s tallest building, and nearly twice the height of the tragic Grenfell Tower. Photo by Roland Nissan

The private developers who built Croydon’s tallest residential tower block used a loophole in planning laws and so avoided the cost of having to fit fire-retarding sprinklers in the multi-million-pound building.

Fitting potentially life-saving sprinklers in the building is estimated would have cost the developers, Berkeley Homes, less than £2million. The properties are reckoned to have been worth more than £200million once completed. According to the latest company figures, the Berkeley Group had revenues of £2.7billion last year.

But Saffron Tower, the 43-storey block which has dominated the Croydon skyline since it was finished last year does not have any sprinklers to act as a safety measure in the possibility of a terrible fire, like the one which claimed the lives of at least 80 people in the Grenfell Tower disaster in north Kensington last month. Grenfell Tower is only 24 storeys high.

“Saffron Square is a modern contemporary development boasting an iconic 43-storey tower situated in the heart of Croydon with excellent transport links into London and Gatwick Airport within 15 minutes,” is how Berkeley Group describes its development.

The buildings, including some lower-rise buildings on Wellesley Road at West Croydon, includes around 800 homes as well as some retail units and, according to the developers, offers residents roof-top gardens and 24-hour concierge and residents’ gym.

But it has no sprinkler system.

The absence of sprinklers is as much a failure of the planning system as it suggests cost-cutting by the developers.

Industry experts suggest that in new-builds it costs approximately £2,000 per unit to fit sprinklers, which are now seen to be an essential fire safety measure in high-rise blocks since the Lakanal House fire in Southwark a decade ago.

Two-bed flats in the “iconic” Saffron Tower are now being re-sold for £720,000, which suggests that there could have been plenty of “slack” in the builders’ budgets to add a sprinkler system in each flat for a couple of grand each.

Builders Berkeley used their registration date to avoid regulations requiring sprinklers

A lack of sprinklers in Grenfell Tower, particularly in the common areas and in the building’s lone staircase, has been suggested as having contributed to the dreadful death toll.

Following the Grenfell disaster, Croydon Council has decided to fit sprinklers in all of its tall residential tower blocks. None of the council’s towers is taller than one-third of the height of the privately developed Saffron Tower, which was completed in 2016.

Building regulations require all buildings of more than 30 metres high and constructed since 2007 have to be fitted with sprinklers.

The Saffron Square site had stood derelict for a decade until acquired by Berkeley in 2006. Planning permission was granted in by the then Tory-controlled council in April 2008, and work begun on the site in 2011. That was four years after the building regs were revised to require sprinklers to be fitted.

But according to a report in the Croydon Advertiser, Berkeley was able to use the acquisition date, when the site was registered to them in 2006, to determine the building regulations to apply to their pink and purple high-rise.

“The integrity of a building is not determined by one element or product,” a spokeswoman for Berkeley said, not seeming in the slightest bit complacent.

“The key is to understand how each whole building is designed, assembled and managed.

“The London Fire Brigade reviewed fire safety compliance at Saffron Square throughout the design and tested it in 2016.

“The building includes fire breaks throughout the cladding system, between each apartment and separating each floor.

“There are wet risers permanently charged with water servicing every floor as well as a smoke ventilation system, rather than sprinklers. We have also appointed an independent expert to review our fire safety strategy and procedures on a regular basis and we routinely work on fire safety with the residents,” Berkeley told the Advertiser.

The Saffron Tower owners and tenants may find those comments from Berkeley reassuring. Although many of the residents of Grenfell Tower, at a “mere” 24 storeys tall, were also led to believe that their building had adequate fire breaks and a fire retardant cladding system, so much so that many perished in the fire because they were following instructions to stay in the homes and await rescue.

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6 Responses to Tower developers used loophole to avoid fitting sprinklers

  1. I suspect that Berkeley homes is correct and their building is safe, anyway we know who to goal if things go wrong. On the other hand Grenfell is council owned, remind me when was the last time a council employee / councillor went the gaol for gross failure…

    • It has been a legal requirement under building regulations since 2007 to fit residential towers with sprinklers.

      Clearly, you and multi-billion business Berkeley Homes are right, and the Lakanal coroner, the London Fire Brigade and the law are wrong.

      Grenfell Tower is now subject of a criminal investigation. But then, you clearly hold the law in contempt anyway.

    • What an unbelievably callous and unfeeling comment! Are you really saying that it’s ok for people to die in horrendous fires as long as we can imprison the guilty afterwards?

  2. croydonres says:

    The useful old English saying — “Penny wise, Pound foolish” takes on an awful significance, when considering fire, construction cost savings, omission of sprinklers, selection of cheaper cladding panels, the cost to society of fire fighting and replacing burned buildings, and above all, the toll and cost of human grief, misery and loss when all goes wrong.

    • According to the latest edition of Private Eye magazine, it was Eric Pickles who removed the requirement on buildings to have non-flammable materials on their outside, all in the “campaign” to remove red tape.

      The perfectly reasonable requirement to use non-flammable building materials had been put in place in 1666, following the Great Fire of London.

      Imagine all the lives that the pesky red tape had saved over more than 300 years.

  3. croydonres says:

    Yes, good points well made…………and was not Pigckles himself not recently seen flying away from Westminster, as he didn’t want to carry on being an MP?

    Presumably he had already achieved his life ambition of trashing town planning, and burning up red tape, elf n’safety and all that leftie stuff ! And as you mentioned, the London Building Acts.

    Maggie would have so been proud!

    Maybe he will use his pensioner pass to attend the public Inquiry, when ever that takes place, or maybe they should organise a select Committee, so he can visit his old haunts at Westminster.

    In fact, he could go Dutch, and share a taxi with Gaffin’Gav, who surely must be attending too?

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