Nottingham City Homes has reassured residents about insulation panels fitted to the outside of its tower blocks amid concern a similar system may have contributed to the Grenfell Tower fire in London.
The full death toll from the blaze in North Kensington on Tuesday (June 13) night is still not known – but the tragedy is already one of the biggest fire disasters in British history.
Questions have since been raised about the safety of insulation cladding installed on the outside walls of the west London block in 2015.
The fire appeared to spread freely across its surface and accelerate the speed of the blaze, leading to the Government ordering a safety review of ‘similar’ cladding systems.
Nottingham City Homes commissioned a refurbishment plan involving the rendering of three of its Sneinton tower blocks in 2013 with insulation, which was completed last summer.
But the company told Notts TV the cladding system fitted at Kingston Court, Manvers Court and Bentinck Court is not the same as was used on the Grenfell block – and the material is ‘100 per cent fire retardant’ [resistant].
The firm added the cladding has a mineral-based core made from molten glass or ‘slag’ – industrial waste – which is spun into a fibre-like, insulating material.
The core of panels fitted on Grenfell Tower are believed to have been the more-flammable polyurethane.
Nottingham City Homes issued a statement today which read: “We appreciate our residents do have concerns following the fire at Grenfell Tower. The sad and tragic scenes yesterday were unprecedented.
“We can confirm that none of our high rise buildings have a cladding system similar to that used on the Grenfell Tower.
“For example, our recent cladding system at Bentinck, Manvers and Kingston Courts in Sneinton, is a mineral-based insulation system, which is completely fire retardant, fitted with fire guards, and does not have a cavity.”
The Government has since launched a review into the safety of cladding systems following the North Kensington fire – which are present in thousands of buildings in the UK.
Some residents of the Sneinton flats said on Thursday morning they were concerned about the materials used in the 2016 upgrade, before Nottingham City Homes clarified what they were made of.
Mikail Samuels, 47, has only lived in Bentinck Court for five days. He said: “It would be worrying that this building has cladding – because of what you see on the news.”
Kenneth McFarland, 69, has lived on the 14th floor for 18 years, and said he helped to build the tower block in the 1960s himself. He said the cladding was a “cause for concern”.
The Nottingham City Homes statement added: “All our tower blocks have regular robust Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs). As soon as there is any learning from Grenfell, we will introduce that into our FRAs straight away. We will of course fully cooperate with the Government’s announced review of cladding systems.”
A resident of Manvers Court, who has lived there for 17 years but did not want to be named, said the flats are “safe enough”.
He added: “I can get straight out. I go down the stairs and out. There’s never been a fire in these buildings and I’ve been here 17 years. [I’ve seen how] everything gets checked – the alarms get checked, the fire brigade check everything.”
Stewart Plimmer, 30, who has lived in Bentinck Court since February, said firefighters had been called to the building “six or seven times” since he moved in.
He said “alarms had been going off in the middle of the night”.
Nottingham City Homes commissioned Surrey-based Wates Living Space to complete the £7.5 million upgrade of the 270 flats across Bentinck Court, Manvers Court and Kingston Court, covering all three towers in the external insulation render.
The project was approved by Nottingham City Council and planning permission was issued in November 2013.
A statement issued by Wates read: “We would like to pass on our deepest sympathies to those affected by the major fire which devastated Grenfell Tower in Kensington and Chelsea in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“Although we were not involved in the recent refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, Wates is working on a number of projects for the council [in London] and is currently refurbishing the 31-storey Trellick Tower on behalf of Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO).
“This work involves close liaison with the London Fire Brigade on fire prevention and evacuation strategies for the block.
“Safety is always our overriding priority wherever we work throughout the country, and we comply fully with all safety fire standards as set out in the current building regulations, and the numerous supporting codes of practice.”
In an earlier statement issued on Thursday on fire safety at its properties, Nottingham City Homes said “robust emergency response processes [are] in place” and events like the Grenfell Tower fire are “very rare”.
The company says it is reviewing its safety processes to make sure “residents would be safe should a similar event happen in Nottingham”.
It added it carries out weekly fire alarm tests in all its high and low-rise blocks and follows advice from Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue to adhere to safety guidance.
“We hold information about where in our blocks disabled or vulnerable people live,” it added.
“In the event of an emergency, these details are shared with the emergency services so that disabled or vulnerable residents can be checked on or evacuated as a priority.
“We are committed to continuing to operate to the highest standards to assess and manage the risk of fire in our blocks.
“This means that we regularly inspect our blocks, test our procedures, and if any issues are identified that may compromise residents’ safety, we take the necessary action to remedy them.
“We will further review policies and procedures if necessary when the findings from the Grenfell Tower incident are fully known and made public.”
The Grenfell fire is believed to have started just after 1am on Wednesday morning.
A total of 74 people are being treated in hospitals, with 20 of them in a critical condition after the fire. Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered a full inquiry into the incident.
The assistant chief fire officer of Notts Fire and Rescue Service, Craig Parkin, says it is important families have smoke detectors and test them regularly – and develop emergency evacuation plans to exit houses in the event of a fire.
He said: “Should a fire occur in your home, our advice is always to get out, stay out and call 999.
“In instances where it is unsafe to evacuate, you should stay in place and await advice from emergency services personnel.
“You should never assume that others have called the emergency services and we would encourage you to educate everyone in your home about this.
“Should you notice any damage to fire protection equipment in your building, we urge you to report this to your landlord or building manager immediately.”
More information about fire safety can be found on the service’s website.