Council asks private developers to check fire safety of towers in the London borough after Grenfell Tower tragedy raises concerns

Elephant and Castle Scheme

Southwark council has asked private developers to check the fire safety of cladding on their high-rise towers, as the fall-out from the Grenfell Tower fire intensifies.

A number of high-rise schemes are being built in the borough including the redevelopment of Elephant and Castle as well as the 50-storey One Blackfriars scheme being developed by Berkeley Group company St George.

According to the most recent tall towers survey by think tank New London Architecture, Southwark has 26 towers of 20 storeys or more in the pipeline - making it fifth on the list of the 32 London boroughs with most towers planned.

“We have asked for assurances regarding the newly-built, privately-owned high-rise blocks in Southwark,” said councillor Stephanie Cryan, deputy leader and cabinet member for housing.

Numerous residential skyscrapers have sprouted in the south London borough over the past decade, and the local authority wants private owners of high-rise blocks to “check for combustible cladding and have it tested for fire safety where this exists,” Cryan said.

Building contacted three private developers active in Southwark - Delancey, Lendlease and Berkeley - to ask what cladding checks they were carrying out.

A spokesperson for Elephant and Castle town centre developer Delancey said: “We can confirm the buildings have a different construction, design and cladding system to that at Grenfell Tower. Our phase one development has just been completed with building control approval received, fire risk assessments undertaken, and with the local fire brigade having inspected the accommodation occupied to date. 

“We can also confirm that the development has a full suite of fire safety arrangements, including centrally-monitored fire alarm system, automatic sprinkler installation, fire resistant doors, and every floor is compartmentalised to achieve 120 minutes’ fire resistance.”

Building also understands that Lendlease, developer for the Elephant Park scheme, has not used combustible cladding on the development. Berkeley was unable to respond at the time of going to press.

Southwark said all 174 council-owned tower blocks in the borough had passed its cladding checks, but that it had “identified some cladding that we want to investigate further” on four low-rise blocks.

“These blocks have some aluminium or similar facing and we are arranging urgent checks to see whether any further action should be taken,” said Cryan. “We hope to have the results of the testing back within two weeks, but in the meantime we have reassured residents that their building fully complies with the current building regulations and that these checks are being carried out purely as a precaution.”

The local authority has also asked housing associations which manage housing stock in Southwark to check their cladding.

Another firm, Muse Developments, the Morgan Sindall company which specialises in mixed-use developments including the under-construction £375m, 900-home Lewisham Gateway scheme in south-east London, said: “The safety of our developments is our utmost priority and following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we have instigated an urgent review of all tall residential buildings that we own and manage.”

Meanwhile, the Department for Education (DfE) says it is calling on local authorities, academies and other organisations to check the material used to clad school buildings which they own and operate.

A spokesman for the DfE said: “The government is taking the potential impact from the tragic Grenfell Tower fire very seriously. Building owners across the public sector estate are being contacted to ensure any risks are managed and dealt with appropriately and promptly.”