Another fire on a timber frame housing scheme will surely lead to more calls for the construction method to be scrapped for major developments
So here we go again. The fire that struck at a construction site in Hatfield on Saturday is inevitably going to reignite the debate on the use of timber frames for major developments. The blaze destroyed two blocks of an 84-unit development in the town centre, and comes just over a year after a major development in Colindale, North West London, was razed to the ground and months after fires struck at a student accommodation block in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a three-storey Persimmon housing development in the West Midlands. A report into the Colindale blaze released in April, which concluded that the fire was most likely caused by a discarded cigarette, questioned whether the method should be used for high-rise buildings. Other figures, such as chairman of the London Assembly and vice-chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority Brian Coleman, were even more outspoken: “Nobody in their right mind would buy a timber-frame building higher than two storeys,” he said at the time.
It is clearly a nervous time for those involved. This appears to have affected those I contacted this morning regarding the Hatfield fire. After being first told by Hertfordshire Fire Service that the most likely cause of the blaze was accidental I received something a different message from Balfour Beatty, parent company of the contractor on site Mansell. The firm said it was baffled by that initial accidental suggestion and said that any indication of the cause was “pure speculation” - so is clearly not dismissing foul play as a possible cause.
Those in the corner for the defence of timber frame housing are clearly not helped by the media age we live. Photos of the fire were being uploaded onto picture sharing website such as Flickr within minutes of the fire striking the site and several videos of the blaze, which appears to be similar in power to the one that struck in Colindale, are now available on YouTube. When such dramatic scenes, and damage, are there for all to see it makes the case for those highlighting the benefits of timber frames all the more difficult to make.