The fire at Barking Reach, London once again shows that there is a systemic problem with the way that fire safety in the residential sector is still not being addressed despite the tragedy of Grenfell Tower and other recent near misses. With ambitions to build up to 300,000 new homes in the UK every year, there is a risk that errors of the past are likely to be repeated.
In the 1960s and 1970s, mass house building projects led to faulty installation of system built homes. Pre-‐fabrication of components, not only in low rise dwellings but also in high rise buildings was the answer they found. As a result, blocks like Ronan Point, a 21 storey Tower block in Canning Town could be “knocked up” in less than two years, many using prefabricated Large Panel System (LPS) building methods. Ronan Point became an example of how the pressure to build homes could lead to the loss of life. When a tenant lit a match near a faulty gas cooker, the resultant explosion blew out concrete panels and caused the corner of the building to collapse like a pack of cards killing 5 people. In Birmingham, concrete panels weighing several tonnes fell off high rise buildings from ten stories up. Cheaply constructed terraced houses had limited fire resistance which failed to resist spread from home to home.
The blame for these problems was attributed to too great a rush to get homes built leading to poor design, faulty installation, very little quality assurance by properly qualified supervisors and a “dash for cash” by the construction companies. Does any of this sound familiar? The number of occasions when blocks of flats seem to catch fire – timber framed construction, wooden balconies, shoddy fire precautions etc – appears to be increasing. The Barking reach fire fortunately occurred in the day time: At night instead of a spectacular media package, we could be asking how another fire tragedy could have occurred less that two years after Grenfell Tower