Emergency services were called to a 19-storey tower-block over the weekend when a fire broke out at New Providence Wharf development, near Canary Wharf, which reportedly had cladding similar to that found on Grenfell Tower.
So far, it appears no lives were lost, but according to the London Fire Brigade (LFB), two adults were taken to hospital to be treated for the effects of smoke inhalation with a further 38 adults and four children receiving treatment at the scene.
The fire broke out just days before the cladding had been scheduled to be removed. Roughly 22% of the building’s facade features aluminium composite material polyethylene (ACM PE) cladding panels, which were found to be a key factor in the 2017 Grenfell fire that killed 72 people.
Apsana Begum, the Poplar & Limehouse Labour MP, commented: “For years now, constituents at New Providence Wharf, where there are 1,500 apartments, have been left vulnerable and unsafe due to numerous fire safety and building safety defects and the fact that ACM cladding remains on these buildings.
“The fire this morning shows just how serious this issue is and why constituents have been right to continue to raise alarm bells for so many months. ‘The developer Ballymore have promised action, but to date, constituents have not received information on fire engineer reports and details of any remediation works.”
In a statement, developers Ballymore said the safety of its residents was “paramount”, but argued that the cladding “played no part” in the fire: “A fire broke out in an apartment on the 8th floor of a building in the New Providence Wharf development. Thanks to the rapid and professional response of the London Fire Brigade the fire was quickly contained, with all residents evacuated from the building in a timely manner, in accordance with the building’s fire safety protocols. Due to the fire brigade response and to the performance of the fire safety systems on the building, the fire damage was contained to one apartment and to two balconies of apartments above. Although we expect most residents to return to their homes this evening, Ballymore is providing accommodation in a nearby hotel for those who require it.
“We understand how difficult and distressing today has been for our residents and we are grateful for the patience they have demonstrated. Our response team on the ground will continue to support them in any way we can. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined and we continue to work closely with the London Fire Brigade during their investigations. We can however confirm that the ACM cladding on the building did not combust and played no part in causing or facilitating the fire. Enabling works to remove the ACM cladding have been underway for two weeks prior to today’s incident. The works will recommence as soon as possible.”
Besides the cladding, another disturbing element is that residents are reporting that there was no alarm and no reporting system.
33-year-old resident James said: “I didn’t know at first, when I opened my window this morning I could see and smell the smoke, it was thick black smoke, even at the side of the building, where I live. But what I don’t get is that there was no alarm, no alert, had I not opened my window I might not have clocked it. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, or how my flat looks, but I know for sure some people are going to be very unhappy and devastated when they see the damage to their flat.”
Andrew, a 47-year old resident in the adjoining block, told reporters that he only found out when neighbours sounded the alarm from their balconies. “There was no functioning sprinkler system or fire alarm,” he said. “It was neighbours and the resident Whatsapp group which got people out. My understanding is there were one or two members of the waking watch knocking on doors, but this isn’t the solution to alerting a huge number of people to evacuate a building. We have known since 2017 that we have the same cladding as Grenfell, knowing we are risking our lives in the building.”