How Safe Are Wandsworth Tower Blocks?

At least one was reclad by the same firm who did the work on Grenfell Tower

Castlemaine Tower: Google Street View

Wandsworth Council are responsible for an estimated 187 tower blocks and issued a statement last week reassuring residents of their safety in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

However, it has not yet been confirmed if any of buildings in the borough share the same flaws that may to have contributed to the horrific death toll from the Grenfell Tower fire.

Although no official explanation has yet been given for the reason the Grenfell fire took hold in the building so quickly, there is a developing consensus among architects and fire safety inspectors that the recent recladding of the building was a major contributory factor.

There has been a trend in recent years for many local authorities to upgrade the appearance of tall buildings they are responsible for by adding an extra layer to hide the original concrete façades. The cladding on Grenfell Tower - which the Chancellor Philip Hammond has now said he believes is banned in the UK - is widely believed to have created a chimney effect which undermined the compartmentalisation which is supposed to protect residents in tower blocks from fire. This relies on the non-combustibility of materials used in construction to confine the fire to the area in which it started, but the flammability of the insulation materials used in Grenfell Tower appears to have allowed the blaze to move rapidly from floor to floor particularly on a warm evening when many windows were open in the building.

Picture: @Natalie_Oxford

Rydon, the main contractor on the Grenfell Tower building, has reportedly carried out a number of similar projects across London although there is no confirmation as yet that any are in Wandsworth. The panels used in Grenfell Tower are believed to be Aluminium Composite Panels which were installed by a company called Harley Facades, a sub-contractor for Rydon. The same company was also appointed to provide a new exterior to Castlemaine Tower in Battersea.

The blocks of flats above what is now known as Southside in Wandsworth town centre were reclad after a number of major retailers quit the shopping centre when it was known as the Arndale. The panels that cover the buildings comprise terracotta tiles on aluminium fixings and box sections, 6mm Pyroc board with 90mm extruded polystyrene insulation. It is not known whether this bears any similarity to the configuration of Grenfell Tower.

Castlemaine Tower is understood to have a different system of cladding as the concrete frame of the building was not deemed robust enough to hang the cladding directly off it. A vertical steel frame was constructed around the building and attached to the main structure with brackets.

The Council’s executive member for housing, Cllr Clare Salier has issued a statement saying that residents will receive a letter giving them as much information and reassurance as possible at an early stage in the investigation

Cllr Sailer said, “Clearly it will take time for the fire brigade to find out how this fire was able to spread so quickly and we will respond to any further safety recommendations that follow.”

Wandsworth Council began a major refurbishment programme of its housing stock in the mid-nineties after winning a Single Regeneration Budget award from Central Government. Many of the towers it managed were built in the 1960s and were very run down with significant management issues.

The Council says that all its housing has up-to-date Fire Risk Assessments which are subject to annual review, but this was the situation at Grenfell Tower where residents had been consistently warning about the potential fire risk. Wandsworth Council says that when there have previously been fires in high-rise blocks in Wandsworth they have been contained.

We have asked Wandsworth Council to provide a list of its buildings that have been reclad in the last decade, but we have yet to receive a reply.

June 19, 2017