Fire safety expert calls for “the whole lot to come down” as housing association agrees deal to spend £72m refacing flawed Paragon Estate

Notting Hill Genesis has defended its decision to spend £72m recladding an evacuated 1,000-home modular scheme in Brentford instead of rebuilding it.

Nearly 900 residents of the Paragon Estate were evacuated in October 2020 after the housing association was warned of significant structural and fire safety issues at the scheme, which consists of six blocks up to 17 storeys in height.

Defects uncovered include plywood which was found to be lining the outer face of the buildings’ modular units, meaning it is considered as part of the cladding system so falls into the scope of building regulations for external walls.

Paragon plywood 2

Close-up of the plywood lining on modular units

The housing association has now appointed contractor Equans to carry out remediation works at the estate, which will see the removal of the plywood lining so the buildings can achieve an EWS1 fire rating. The homes are scheduled to be brought back into use by 2026.

But fire expert and surveyor Arnold Tarling told Building he was “very surprised” NHG had opted to remediate the estate instead of rebuilding it from scratch.

Tarling, who surveyed the building with the BBC following the evacuation, said: “The whole lot has to come down because there is no way of fire-proofing it economically. You’re going to have to gut the whole lot. The only way to deal with it is to rebuild.”

A spokesperson for Notting Hill Genesis said: “We conducted extensive investigations to identify the best solution to allow us to reprovide homes at the Paragon estate and are confident that the option we are pursuing is robust and feasible.”

The estate was built by Caledonian Modular in 2006 using a steel frame modular system and includes 1,059 residences, including 839 student rooms, of which 688 were occupied at the time of the evacuation.

The original development was undertaken by a student housing subsidiary of Berkeley Group. At the time, the project was hailed as the tallest modular-built scheme in the UK.

Issues with the buildings date back to at least 2017, when NHG issued a tender for works to repair incorrectly installed and missing fire breaks, which was awarded to specialist maintenance and repair contractor Axis Europe.

The housing association has now revealed it was during these works that further defects were uncovered.

A spokesperson for NHG told Building: “Cavity barrier repairs were underway and had completed in some areas when the site was evacuated.

“While recladding work was underway we found a number of other defects relating to the structure and mains services and used the opportunity to resolve these while the original cladding was off the buildings.”

The buildings then underwent months of intrusive investigations to assess the scale of remediation required.

> Also read: Notting Hill settled £20m legal claims over Paragon block in 2019

The works due to be carried out be Equans will include the installation of thicker insulation as part of a new facade to “dramatically improve the comfort and efficiency of the home”, NHG said.

Around £36m will be spent on bringing building services and finishes up to a modern standard, including the installation of sprinkler systems, upgraded mechanical, engineering and public health systems, and refitted homes.

John Hughes, NHG group director of development and sales and deputy chief executive, said: “The safety of our residents is always our first priority and as such, we felt moving residents from Paragon was the best course of action and has enabled us to assess the full scope of the proposed works.

“We know how much of an upheaval this was for everyone, so we established dedicated teams to work with every household to find a permanent solution.

“The subsequent thorough investigations give us a great deal of confidence that we have a robust plan and we are looking forward to working with Equans and our expert team of surveyors to deliver our remediation and reinvestment plan.”