Residents on two housing estates where blocks of flats burned down have been left at risk because of fire stopping measures in buildings being “missing or useless”, the BBC has been told.
A block built in Worcester Park in south-west London by the Berkley Group burned down in September.
The BBC has found apparent flaws in two more Berkley Group buildings it is said would allow fire to spread quickly.
The developer said all properties had been “independently signed off”.
Since September’s blaze, the housing association for The Hamptons estate has temporarily changed its “stay put” evacuation policy following advice from London Fire Brigade.
Former resident Stephen Nobrega told the BBC the way the fire spread “was more or less instant. It was like paper”.
Wood is combustible and so fire stopping in timber frame homes is important to prevent the spread of fire.
“You would expect that the materials would contain a fire for a considerable amount of time, but it just didn’t happen,” Mr Nobrega said.
Although there were no injuries, some residents believed they just about escaped in time.
‘Shoddily thrown together’
A number of families lost their homes in the fire while others on the estate said they were concerned their own homes were not safe.
The development has since been on high alert, with security guards patrolling 24 hours-a-day on the lookout for fire.
Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), the housing association that now manages properties in the Hamptons, said it had “fitted smoke alarms in the electrical cupboards of all our blocks”.
“We are worried about how our homes are built and if they could go up, we want to be evacuated,” a resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.
A large fire would be able to spread quickly at another building on The Hamptons site, two independent surveyors have claimed.
Independent chartered surveyor and fire safety inspector, Arnold Tarling, found a large gap between the fire stopping and the cladding on the outside of a building in the estate, which he said would act as a “chimney through which a fire will spread”.
“What we have here is a form of fire stopping which just won’t do its job,” he said.
Greig Adams, a fire safety expert, told the BBC these breaches had “consequences, including a considerable increased risk to life in the event of a fire”.
“The provision of effective fire barriers is a mandatory requirement, not an element that can be shoddily thrown together or to cut corners on,” Mr Adams said.
A former home owner at the Worcester Park estate has told the BBC she contacted the Berkeley Group nine years ago over safety concerns.
Sheila Majid said she had an independent inspection of her property in 2010 that revealed similar problems with fire stopping and meant “our home did not meet basic fire safety requirements”.
She managed to sell her property back to the Berkeley Group, but remained concerned other Berkeley properties had similar problems.
Two years ago a fire at another Berkeley Group-built property on the Holborough Lakes Estate in Kent destroyed a block of flats.
Mr Tarling inspected a loft space at a property in the estate and found similar fire safety problems to those at the Worcester Park estate.
“There needs to be a full investigation of these properties, not only by the contractor but by the authorities,” he said.
A spokesman for the Berkley Group said “all properties were independently signed off as building control compliant”.
Speaking about the Hamptons fire he said “the police and the fire brigade are still investigating the cause of the fire, which remains unknown” and the group was “making all necessary checks to reassure residents”.
A National House Building Council spokesperson said it was the approved inspector for the Worcester Park development and the organisation had “carried out periodic inspections at key stages of a development’s construction”.
However, they added that “the primary responsibility for achieving compliance with the regulations rests with the builder”.
Housing association MTVH said it had since commissioned surveys of all the buildings it owned and managed.
Geeta Nanda, chief executive of MTVH, said: “It’s our absolute priority to ensure we provide residents with the support and help they need at this difficult time, and making sure that the homes throughout The Hamptons are safe.”
London-based developer Berkley Group has built 19,500 homes in the past five years across the south of England and the Midlands.
Commuters have been told not to travel from London Waterloo during the rush hour after a fire closed nine platforms.
The lineside blaze damaged cabling outside the station, meaning trains cannot use platforms 16-24.
Network Rail said “significant damage” had been caused to equipment, meaning trains will be delayed or cancelled.
Disruption is expected for the rest of the day while the Thursday morning rush hour may also be affected.
Network Rail said its engineers would be working through the night to fix the damage.
Waterloo is the busiest and largest railway station in the UK.
The platforms which are closed are normally used by trains serving Windsor, Reading, Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston.
However, services from other platforms are also being affected because trains have to be diverted or revised.
- Circular services via Hounslow, Richmond, Strawberry Hill and Kingston have been cancelled
- Trains between Waterloo and Windsor & Eton Riverside are diverted via Kingston
- Trains between Waterloo and Exeter/Salisbury are terminated and will restart from Basingstoke
Passengers were warned that services on other routes may also be subject to short-notice cancellations or delays.
In a joint statement, Network Rail and South Western Railway said commuters were “strongly advised to use alternative routes where possible and check their journeys before travelling at southwesternrailway.com for ticket acceptance and service details”.
Some passengers took to social media to express their frustration at the travel disruption.
One Twitter user described the situation as an “absolute shambles”, while others complained about being given the wrong or no information at all by train station staff.
A barbecue on a balcony could have caused a block of flats to be engulfed by fire, according to its builders.
Twenty flats with wooden balconies were destroyed and 10 more damaged in Sunday’s fire in Barking, east London.
Residents said concerns were raised with builder Bellway Homes about potential fire hazards.
A Bellway spokesman said they it was “relieved that the fire protection measures… ensured that occupants were safely evacuated”.
The London Fire Brigade said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
Fire investigators and scientific advisers have been at the scene carrying out “extensive investigations”, the service added.
It said: “We understand that the blaze was contained to the external envelope of the eastern elevation of the building, with initial reports suggesting that it was caused by a barbecue on a resident’s balcony.”
The Metropolitan Police said 15 to 18 families were evacuated from their homes and taken to the Thames View Community Centre, about a mile from the scene.
Following an investigation by BBC Watchdog in May, Peter Mason, chair of the Barking Reach residents’ association, said he asked Bellway Homes to review the fire risk.
In an email seen by the BBC from the firm last month, Bellway said the construction method used on the development in Scotland examined by Watchdog was different and so the Barking homes in De Pass Gardens were not affected in the same way.
More than 100 firefighters tackled the Barking blaze, which spread over six floors, for more than two hours.
A Bellway spokesman said the fire was “a very serious issue” and said it was working with all parties to establish how it happened”.
He added: “Whilst we are continuing our investigations into this matter, we are supporting London Borough of Barking and Dagenham in securing alternative temporary accommodation for affected residents and are offering our support to help remediate the damaged apartments.”