Where Croydon stands after the Grenfell Tower investigation

By - Wednesday 19th July, 2017

The tragedy at the Grenfell Tower in June has pushed boroughs across London to re-evaluate fire safety

Photo public domain.

Croydon’s council was quick to review the fire conditions of its own housing blocks after news spread of malpractice at Grenfell Tower. After its review of thirty-nine council blocks, the council deemed that the cladding used is fire retardant and good quality.

“Our cladding is 3mm thick aluminium panelling, not ACM. Our insulation is Rockwool. Both of these products have high fire retardant properties”, said Alison Butler, the Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning.

Councillor Butler later announced that fire sprinklers will be installed in all council blocks with ten or more storeys. Following the tragedy, the council clarified that Rydon Maintenance Ltd, the group that installed cladding at Grenfell Tower, did not carry out cladding works on Croydon blocks. Butler stated that Harley Facades, the sub-contractor that supplied cladding to Grenfell Tower, did work on four council blocks in 2003 and 2004, however those materials have since been tested and deemed safe.

“We believe that the government should be supporting local authority investment in fire safety”

“This council is committed to installing fire sprinklers in twenty-three council blocks ten or more storeys high because this tragedy showed we all need to bolster fire safety measure for our residents”, said Butler. “I will also be writing to the government challenging it to give us more support in our plans to make our borough safer. We believe that the government should be supporting local authority investment in fire safety”.

Butler is pushing for government to review housing that was built under permitted development rights. Homes that were built outside the normal planning permissions were not built with the same scrutiny from the council. Croydon has over a thousand homes that were converted from office space, and these homes have not been reviewed by the council or government.

“This erosion of local authorities’ roles in overseeing private schemes”

“I have raised concerns previously about government deregulation that means permitted developments no longer need planning permission. This takes these developments out of the specialist scrutiny that comes with the local authority planning process. I have called on government to review these kinds of developments, and to reverse this erosion of local authorities’ roles in overseeing private schemes”, said Butler.

In 2015 Croydon’s council opted out of permitted development rights and created the Croydon Opportunity Area (COA), which required developers to apply for normal planning permission. While developers are looking for quicker avenues to build, the council is hoping to enforce normal planning measures to maintain regulation of the developments.

Private developers such as Martin Skinner believe that that government deregulation such as permitted development rights are necessary for Croydon to fix its housing issue. Skinner is the founder and CEO of Inspired Homes, which owns five distinct housing blocks in Croydon. According to Skinner, the council’s normal planning process is impeding growth.

“They take longer than developers need and they are less commercially minded than they should be”, said Skinner.

While there are suspicions whether the planning development rights model allowed developers to skip safety protocols, he believes that housing safety does not suffer due to an accelerated planning process.

“Grenfell Tower went through planning and was not safe”

“PDR or planning have no effect on fire safety in my opinion. The two are unrelated. Grenfell Tower went through planning and was not safe. Ours went through PDR and are safe. Furthermore because we don’t have to waste so much time on inefficient planning processes we are are able to focus more and invest more in customer-centric priorities like affordability, design, specification, lifestyle and of course safety”, said Skinner.

Almost all Inspired Homes properties have fire sprinklers, which were installed as part of the initial construction. Skinner continues to support an accelerated planning process outside the council pushed by government, and when contacted for this article, repeated his calls for major developments such as Westfield to be pushed harder and faster. Other private developers in Croydon such as Vita and Schroders also comply with fire safety and have fire sprinklers.

The fire brigade has temporarily increased the number of responders to tower block emergencies

The London Fire Brigade previously issued a warning to all thirty three London councils about cladding and similar panels in May, however little to no action was taken until the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. Housing providers have the responsibility to carry out fire risk assessments and the fire brigade audits those reviews. In response to the recent tragedy, the fire brigade has temporarily increased the number of responders to tower block emergencies.

“We’re working with local councils across London to improve their understanding of fire safety”, said Robert McTaggart, Senior Communications Officer for the London Fire Brigade.

With Croydon becoming the first borough to announce sprinkler installation in its tower blocks, and private developers investing in fire safety, there is reason to believe that the borough’s infrastructure is well-prepared for fire emergencies.

Zach Baker

Zach Baker

Zach Baker is the Croydon Citizen's first dedicated reporter and photographer. Hailing from the US, he is a student studying journalism in London. He has a passion for clean design and incorporating visuals with narratives. As a journalist, he aims to illuminate the stories of Croydon through strong visuals and writing. In his free time he often works with multimedia such as audio and video to create impactful projects. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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