How can a building with Grenfell-style cladding go up in flames four years after Grenfell?

·7-min read
A fire broke out in a flat in New Providence Wharf, a development covered with the same cladding that allowed the Grenfell fire to spread with such deadly speed. (PA Images)
A fire broke out in a flat in New Providence Wharf, a development covered with the same cladding that allowed the Grenfell fire to spread with such deadly speed. (PA Images)

After 72 people were killed in the devastating fire that ripped through the Grenfell Tower in London, the country unified behind a simple message: "Never again."

Four years later and just 10 miles away, a block of flats wrapped in the same dangerous cladding that allowed the Grenfell blaze to spread with deadly speed through the tower, caught fire.

More than 100 firefighters rushed to the New Providence Wharf development, near Canary Wharf, on Friday morning. 

Parts of the eighth, ninth and 10th stories of the 19-floor block were set alight, with roaring flames visible from the street below and smoke engulfing the building.

Watch: Firefighters tackle blaze at east London tower block

Rescue teams evacuated terrified residents from their balconies, and two people were taken to hospital.

A further 42 people, including four children, were treated at the scene for shock and smoke inhalation.

The fire raises one straightforward question: how is this still being allowed to happen?

Following the Grenfell Tower fire, then prime minister Theresa May established the Building Safety Programme, with the promise of "making sure that buildings are safe – and people feel safe – now, and in the future."

Much of the plan focused on the removal of unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding from high-rise buildings.

Firefighters inspect damage to a 19-storey tower block in New Providence Wharf in London, where the London Fire Brigade (LFB) was called to on Friday morning to reports of a fire and more than 100 firefighters are tackling a blaze that has ripped through the block, believed to be covered in cladding, in east London. Picture date: Friday May 7, 2021. See PA story FIRE CanaryWharf. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA
Firefighters inspect the burnt remains of a flat in New Providence Wharf in London. The damage shows how the fire spread to neighbouring apartments. (Yui Mok/PA)
Firefighters at the scene in New Providence Wharf in London, where the London Fire Brigade (LFB) was called to on Friday morning to reports of a fire and more than 100 firefighters are tackling a blaze that has ripped through a 19-storey tower block, believed to be covered in cladding. Picture date: Friday May 7, 2021. See PA story FIRE CanaryWharf. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA
Firefighters and police are pictured at the scene in New Providence Wharf in London, where the London Fire Brigade was called on Friday morning to reports of a fire. (Yui Mok/PA)

The inquiry into the Grenfell fire, which is still ongoing, concluded that "the primary cause of fire spread" was the presence of ACM cladding.

Writing in July 2019, then communities secretary James Brokenshire set a deadline of June 2020 for the removal of ACM from private sector buildings. Building owners were warned they would face "enforcement action" if they failed to comply.

The deadline was missed.

On 11 March 2021, almost a year after the target date and close to four years after the Grenfell tragedy, government figures show just 52% of the hundreds of high-rise building identified as having unsafe ACM cladding have completed work to remove it.

Some 43 buildings haven't even started the process of remediation, and work is ongoing in 76 further buildings.  

General view of the remains of the Grenfell Tower, with the tower of Notting Hill Methodist Church, a month after fire engulfed the 24-storey block in Kensington, London. Picture date: Wednesday July 12th, 2017. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/ EMPICS Entertainment.
The remains of the Grenfell Tower are pictured a few weeks after the deadly blaze, which killed 72 people. (PA Images)
Graffiti near the Grenfell Tower, a month after fire engulfed the 24-storey block in Kensington, London. Picture date: Tuesday July 11th, 2017. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/ EMPICS Entertainment.
Graffiti was scrawled on walls near the Grenfell Tower after the building went up in flames due to safety defects. Four years later, the same defects still exist in hundreds of other high-rise buildings. (PA Images)

In New Providence Wharf in 2021, approximately 22% of the building’s facade features ACM PE cladding panels.

New Providence Wharf is owned by Ballymore housing, an Ireland-based company that made a profit of £80.3m in the year 2018 2019.

In a statement on Friday, Ballymore said that work to replace the cladding was “under way” and the main contractor had been due to take possession of the site on Monday.

There are a number of reasons behind the delay to remove the deadly cladding, including the government's underestimate of the scale of the problem.

Another key reason is that developers and owners of buildings are refusing to pay up.

Ballymore have said they do not plan to pay the full costs for the removal of the ACM cladding, instead passing millions of pounds in costs onto the freeholders of the flats.

The costs for remediation for the building are set to be between £12.5 million and £25 million.

Brokenshire wrote to developers in 2019 to encourage them to cover the costs.

However there is no legal obligation on developers to pick up the tab, and the request went ungranted.

A £200m fund was set up by the government in 2019 when it became clear that developers were not willing to pay the millions needed to remove dangerous cladding, but failed to speed up the process.

A spokesperson from the ministry of housing, communities and local government (MHCLG) told Yahoo News UK that the building had received £8 million from this fund, but that work had not yet started and was due to commence next week.

The government passed a bill this month that offers some funding to replace ACM cladding on buildings over 18m.

However, the funding does not cover other defects such as missing fire breaks, leaving leaseholders facing bills in the tens of thousands of pounds.

Buildings smaller than 18m are not eligible for grants.

Watch: Ministers attacked over funding gaps for cladding scandal

Apsana Begum, the Poplar & Limehouse Labour MP, said: “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 and having met with them again I know just how terrified they must be feeling at this time.”

“The developer Ballymore have promised action, but to date, constituents have not received information on fire engineer reports and details of any remediation works.”

Two women walk towards the Grenfell Memorial Wall in the grounds of Kensington Aldridge Academy. Picture date: Tuesday February 16, 2021. (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
Two women walk towards the Grenfell Memorial Wall in the grounds of Kensington Aldridge Academy in February 2021, almost four years after the tragedy. (Jonathan Brady/PA Images)

Speaking after rescue services attended New Providence Wharf, Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “It is extremely alarming to see another high-rise building in the heart of London light up in flames.

“A huge thank you to the firefighters who responded and got the fire under control so quickly and our thoughts are with all of those affected.

“It should shame this government that four years on from Grenfell there are people across the country living in buildings wrapped in flammable cladding.

“Time and time again we’ve warned that another Grenfell could be just around the corner unless they prioritise making people’s homes safe.

“The pace of removing flammable cladding has been glacial and it’s putting people’s lives at risk. The government must intervene and take quick and decisive action to end our building safety crisis once and for all.”

An MHCLG spokesperson said: “We thank the emergency services for their work to extinguish the fire in New Providence Wharf. As we await their report on the cause of the fire it is too early to speculate, but we are working closely with the London Fire Brigade.

“The building has received £8m government funding to remove unsafe ACM cladding – this work was set to take place on Monday and we have been in regular contact with Ballymore over the last two years to make progress, including publicly naming Landor, their subsidiary, as one of the companies that has consistently failed to take action. Ministers have met Ballymore repeatedly to urge action.

“We are spending £5bn to fully fund the replacement of all unsafe cladding in the highest risk buildings and are making the biggest improvements to building safety in a generation. It is essential that building owners take swift action to remediate defective cladding and the government will fund every eligible application. Workers are on site in 95% of buildings identified as having ACM cladding at the beginning of 2020 and we expect that work to be completed at pace in the coming months.”

Ballymore said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by this morning’s fire at New Providence Wharf.

“The safety of our residents is paramount and we are working closely with the London Fire Brigade.

“We can confirm that the fire was quickly brought under control by the Fire Brigade and is now extinguished. Our response team are on-site to support residents and assist with alternative accommodation where necessary.

“We will update once we have more information.”

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