As the horrific circumstances of the Grenfell Tower fire unfold, and cladding has been raised as a potential cause of the rapid spread of the fire, we have some more information on Wolverhampton’s tower blocks. 

Cladding

Of our 36 tower blocks, 18 have cladding.

Most of these (12) are clad with insulated render – not made of plastic, and without spaces to cause a possible “chimney effect” to spread a fire. These include blocks at Highfield Court, St. Joseph's Court and Pennwood Court (Merry Hill), Arthur Greenwood Court (Bilston), Grosvenor Court, Gregory Court and Lathe Court (Wednesfield), Wodensfield Tower and William Bentley Court (Wednesfield) and Clem Attlee Court, Hugh Gaitskell Court and Winston Churchill Court (Stowlawn). These do not pose any special risk.

Over 10 years ago, three blocks at Graiseley estate (Graiseley Court, Russell Court and Grosvenor Court) near the city centre and three blocks at Heath Town (Brockfield House, Campion House and Longfield House) were clad or partially clad with a  'rain screen' system fixed on to the blocks. Whilst these are NOT identical to the system as used at Grenfell, we are immediately checking the specifications, reviewing the full working drawings and installation methods so we can be certain they pose no special risk. If necessary, there will then be full, on site testing, and we will keep you informed.

Graiseley Update: 20th June 2017: Graiseley Court, Russell Court and Grosvenor Court

The cladding at these flats is a system which uses a solid aluminium external panel sheet and mineral wool insulation behind it, both of which have a “non-combustible” fire rating.

There are also fire breaks installed at regular intervals as required by the Building Regulations, which means any fire would be contained between those fire breaks.

The cladding on these blocks is very different to the cladding used at Grenfell Tower.

The manufacturers of the cladding have also confirmed that there have been several severe fires in other buildings which have been clad using the same system as at Graiseley, and in each case, the fire has been fully and successfully contained and the cladding material has met the fire performance requirements in all respects.

Heath Town Update: 20th June 2017: Brockfield House, Campion House and Longfield House

The cladding on these blocks in Heath Town was tested in 2015 and it was confirmed that the cladding is made from a non-combustible material and performs to “class 0” in terms of spread of flame.

This is good news and confirms that all of these blocks with “rain screen” cladding, have the highest fire safety ratings. It gives a really high level of reassurance about the materials used, so we are now pressing ahead with our own independent checks of how it was fitted. These will take place as soon as possible over the next two weeks and we’ll let you know as soon as we have the results.

Update 28th June 2017:

We have now made arrangements for our checks of how the cladding was fitted at Graisley and the three blocks at Heath Town. These checks will be carried out on 28th June at Heath Town and 29th June at Graiseley.

This will involve removing sections of the cladding at second and third floor levels to check how the system was installed. We will be using a mobile working platform to access these panels, which may require some car parking spaces to be cordoned-off whilst this work is in progress.

The entire process should only take a few hours to complete. We will keep you informed about the results of those checks and will let you know if any further work is necessary.

Graiseley Update 17th July:

Since sending the cladding for testing, we have now been told that testing of panels like the ones on your block, has been put on hold to give priority to the ACM panels like the ones used at Grenfell Tower. So we do not have a date for when the testing will be carried out. We will keep you informed when we have more news.  (Your cladding is very different to the cladding used at Grenfell Tower as it is a complete aluminium panel. We requested that it was tested to reassure you that it is safe.)

Heath Town 24th July: Brockfield House, Campion House and Longfield House

The external panels that were used on your block are aggregate resin, which are not the same as the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panels used at Grenfell Tower. They are a very different panel in terms of design and material composition. 

When the panels were installed in 1990/91, they needed to achieve a Class 0 rating to comply with the Building Regulations. The current Building Regulations also require cladding systems to achieve the same Class 0 rating. Before the panels were sold in the UK, they were tested in-line with the industry recognised BBA certification scheme, that demonstrated full compliance with the relevant standards and regulations, specifically the Class 0 rating, which means that the product will not allow flame to spread.

To provide reassurance that these panels meet this standard, we sent a sample of the external panel used, to a Government approved testing laboratory. However, as you may have seen in the press, the testing procedure that the laboratories were using came under criticism. The laboratories have changed the testing and are now assessing the whole cladding system’s performance against fire (rather than separately testing each material used in the cladding). We will be sending new sample panels for this test to be conducted, but in the meantime we have discussed this with the fire service and they do not have any concerns about the cladding. We’ll keep you informed about the results of the tests.

Heath Town 1st August: Brockfield House, Campion House and Longfield House

We have now received the results of these strict tests and I can confirm that that the cladding has passed. This is great news and provides real reassurance that the cladding is safe.

Our next step is to look to the future. As the whole of the Heath Town estate is being improved, we will make sure that fire safety is taken fully into account and we will renew any products which are nearing the end of their life. We’ll continue to keep you updated.
 

Access for emergency vehicles

The emergency services have raised no issues with us about access to tower blocks, however, to be absolutely sure, we are asking the Fire Service to check access to every tower block in the city and advise if more space is needed – if necessary, we will create it.

Gas

There is no gas in any of our tower blocks.

Sprinklers

We have always worked closely with West Midlands Fire Service, to identify any specific high-risk situations, where the installation of a sprinkler system may be required. To date, we have installed sprinklers in the ground floor bin room areas of flats and, in specific high-risk circumstances, we have installed a domestic sprinkler system in individuals’ flats or houses. Due to the very-high risk of a fire occurring in that individual’s home, the sprinkler system helps us to safeguard the life of that person and other residents in the block.

At present sprinklers are not required to be retrospectively fitted throughout high rise tower blocks but we will continue to work very closely with West Midlands Fire Service will take their advice in terms of installing sprinkler systems into existing high rise tower blocks.

Clear guidance on sprinklers will not be available until the findings of the fire investigation has been completed following the Grenfell Tower disaster. It is expected that the Government and coroner will then make recommendations which will result in fundamental changes being made to the fire regulations and fire safety.

You can be assured that we will immediately act on any changes in the fire regulations and building legislation that arise from this dreadful disaster and we will comply with all the new recommendations. It is impossible to speculate about what these changes may be, so if we commission work prior to any announcements, it is likely that this work may not comply with new safety regulations. We are closely monitoring the situation.

Advice about what to do in the event of a fire and how to prevent fire

As tower block residents know, the advice has been to stay put in your flat in the event of a fire unless you are advised to leave the building. We are arranging for health and safety staff and the Fire Service to visit tower blocks to provide advice and assistance to residents on what to do in the event of a fire and about fire prevention.

For more advice on how to keep safe in flats, please read our fire safety section.

Cladding on houses

The cladding used on houses is an insulated rendered system. This is a very different type of cladding system to the one we understand was used at Grenfell Tower which was a ‘ventilated rainscreen system.

We use three types of insulated rendered systems; SPS Envirowall, Permarock and Wetherby. Each manufacturer has completed in-depth fire testing on their external wall insulation systems through the BBA (British Board of Agrément) and the BRE (British Research Establishment), to ensure their systems achieve industry standards and meet current building regulations regarding fire resistance and spread of flame.

In addition, to this traditional low rise housing by the very nature of their design, construction and height do not represent the same levels of risk in terms of fire management in comparison with high rise blocks of flats.

Extra fire safety measures

From the end of July, we will be carrying out some work to further improve the fire safety of the communal areas in each block. The work will improve the fire stopping where cables run between the floors. The work will be carried out by Wates Living Space and their sub-contractor PD Fire. We already have robust fire prevention measures in these areas and we are only carrying this work out due to improved products becoming available. 

 


Your Questions

Thank you for your questions, we will post all of your questions and answers here. If you have any other questions please use our question form.

 

AG, Merry Hill

Q. In view of this morning’s devastating fire in a London tower block can you please advise me as to how any fire engine would gain access to the building due to residents cars being double parked and also parked outside the main doors in a no parking zone. When these buildings were first built hardly any residents had a car. Now that a lot of flats have 1 or 2 cars there is insufficient car parking space.

A. The emergency services have not raised issues of concern but we have to be absolutely sure. We are asking the Fire Service to check access to each and every block and advise us if access needs improving – we will act on the results.

 

MD, Bilston

Q. Sprinklers in blocks - are there any?

A. No. However, we do have sprinkler systems installed in the ground floor bin chute rooms to all our high rise blocks of flats. 

Q. Questions raised about risk of fire spread with the insulation as this was behind the cladding?

A. It is understood that the type of cladding system that was used as part of the regeneration work at the Grenfell Tower West London, is one that is referred to as a ‘rain screen’ system. The one used on the Merry Hill Estate is a different encapsulated insulated render cladding system.

Q.  And the materials used to join the cladding to the building?

A.  A full investigation as to the cause of the fire in West London is currently being conducted. There are several systems in operation which vary in design and fixing. The manufacturers system dictates what fixing is used.

 

FS, Tettenhall

Q. It seems possible that the fire at Grenfell Court spread so quickly because that gap between cladding and original outside wall did not have adequate fire breaks in it. Perhaps you could let tenants know which blocks have been re-clad, whether they re-cladding was done in a way that leaves such a gap, and whether or not the adequacy of the breaks has been checked.

A. Of our 36 tower blocks, 18 have received some form of external cladding. Most of these (12) are clad with insulated render – not made of plastic, and without air space to cause a possible “chimney effect” to spread a fire. As we believe may be the case at Grenfell Tower, West London where a ‘ventilated’ system was used. These include blocks at Merry Hill, Arthur Greenwood Court (Bilston), Lakefield, Hickman and Stowlawn. These do not pose any special risk.

Over 10 years ago, three blocks at Graiseley estate near the city centre and three towers at Heath Town (Brockfield, Campion and Longfield) were clad or partially clad with a ‘ rain screen’ system fixed on to the blocks. Whilst these are not identical to the system used at Grenfell, we are immediately checking the specifications, reviewing the full working drawings and installation methods so we can be certain they pose no special risk. If necessary, there will then be full on site testing.
  

LM, Penn 

Q. I've had my concerns about my terrace house too, wooden structure with no insulation etc between the neigbours, cladded in plastic, a fire would rip through the street no problem, god forbid!

A. Fire safety requirements and risk is very different for low-rise housing in comparison with high rise block of flats where you could typically find 100+ flats and 200-300 residents. The level and type of fire protection in housing will differ from property to property depending upon the age of construction, size, design and type etc. The level of risk in terms of escape is generally far lower for low rise houses.
 

MR, Low Hill

Q. Queries have been raised about the external cladding on this tower block, should tenants on Low Hill be concerned about the cladding on their properties?

A. The properties on the Low Hill estate that have been in receipt of external wall insulation have been undertaken using what is known as insulated rendered systems. These are a very different type of cladding system to the one we understand was specified and used at Grenfell Tower, West London. This was a ‘ventilated rainscreen system.

The manufactures, of one the systems used on the Low Hill estate ‘Wetherby’ have confirmed that they complete in-depth fire testing on their external wall insulation systems through the BBA (British Board of Agrément) and the BRE (British Research Establishment), to ensure their systems achieve the highest industry standards and meet current building regulations regarding fire resistance and spread of flame. Wetherby has also provided the BBA certificates for both their systems which are applied to the phenolic boarding which was used on your estate.

In addition, to this traditional low rise housing by the very nature of their design, construction and height do not represent the same levels of risk in terms of fire management in comparison with high rise blocks of flats.
 

DR, Merry Hill

Q. With the recent tragedy in a London high rise block, I am sure many Wolverhampton residents have some concerns. Will there be a meeting where people can get information? Could you please tell me whether xxx Court has cladding and if so, what sort is it? 

A. Given the recent tragedy in London, we can certainly appreciate tenants in high-rise blocks being concerned.  We have published some useful information on our website and can confrim that your block is clad with insulated render, not made of plastic and without spaces to aid the spread of fire. These blocks therefore pose no special risk. 

 

JH, Wednesfield

Q. As you know the building is former council and it has had cladding installed not only does it raise concern. Cannibis smoking is a regular event in the foyer. Also dumping of furniture is rife also. Notices are put up but that's where it ends. No action is ever taken .

A. From your address, I can see that you live in a block which isn’t manged by Wolverhampton Homes. Your landlord should take treat your concerns seriously but we will inform our own health and safety team, together with the fire service, of your concerns.

 

ML, Merry Hill

Q. My kitchen door is not fire proof and I feels that it is Illegal and somebody keeps throwing cigarette ends at the front of block half used which can cause a fire.

A. It is not possible to comment about individual properties at this stage. However, arrangements will be made to contact you for a surveyor to come and visit you at your flat to inspect your door and give you further advice.

 

CM, Bilston

Q. From the letter I received yesterday it stated access for emergency services there were no issues and could access the building easily, however, I've attached some images for your reference to help me understand how any emergency services could have easy access to the building with this amount of unauthorised vehicles parked there? These images are several different days with the last photo taken on Friday night -16th June 2017.

This is like this usually every night and on many occasions, the bin area has also been blocked due to parking leaving bin men unable to get to bins easily. There's nothing in place to stop this from happening and people are allowed to park everywhere including disabled parking when they are not disabled. However, if there was a fire, unfortunately, it would pose a great risk to all living here and not something the council should be allowing with some recent incidents that have occurred In London.  I would appreciative arrangements are made to make sure the building is as safe as it can be if a fire should take place. 

A. We are arranging for visits to all blocks of flats, out of office hours so that we can check the amount of parking and see where there are issues. We’ll take any appropriate action as a result of those visits. It’s reassuring to know that if West Midlands Fire service do have trouble getting their appliances to a fire, they will remove vehicles if necessary.

 

WL, Wednesfield

Q. In your update on the fire safety of high rise blocks, you have stated that my home is clad with 'insulated render - not plastic'. Could you please elaborate on the details and specifications on this because I'm quite certain that the render you are claiming to have been used actually coats polystyrene blocks underneath which is plastic and flammable. 

A. I can confirm that the render is insulated with mineral wool which has a “non-combustible” fire rating.

 

LP,  Merry Hill

Q. Please can you confirm whether the recently refurbished flats at the top of brickiln st, are clad with non flammable units.

A. I think the flats that you are referring to are the Graiseley flats. We can confirm that these are clad with a system which uses a solid aluminium external panel sheet and mineral wool insulation behind it, both of which have a “non-combustible” fire rating.

 

JD, Wednesfield

Q. Why are Sprinkler systems not being fitted retrospectively to all high rise buildings? Would this not make residents feel safer and minimise the risk if in the event of a fire. Why do we only have one fire exit route surely all these things need looking out, I live on the 14th floor and I am now extremely concern for my safety. 

A. At present sprinklers are not required to be retrospectively fitted throughout high rise tower blocks. This may change once the findings of the fire investigation has been completed following the Grenfell Tower disaster. It is expected that the Government and coroner will then make recommendations which will result in fundamental changes being made to the fire regulations and fire safety and this may include guidance on sprinklers. It is impossible to speculate about what any new guidance may be, so if we started to install sprinklers now before any announcements, it is likely that the work may not comply with new safety regulations. We are closely monitoring the situation and we will immediately act on any changes in the fire regulations and building legislation and we will comply with all the new recommendations.

The guidance for if there is a fire, is still to stay put in your flat. Your building is designed to resist fire and stop the spread of smoke, so if there is a fire anywhere in the block (apart from your flat) it is safer to stay in your flat. The fire stopping in the building and your fire door means that you will be safe for at least an hour, while the fire service attends to the fire in the building. (see the fire safety in flats section of our website.

Clearly this was different at Grenfell Tower as the fire was spreading on the outside of the building. We have confirmed that the cladding at your block is different to that used at Grenfell, as it is clad with insulated render and without spaces to cause a possible “chimney effect” to spread a fire.

We will be visiting all high rise flats in the city with West Midlands Fire Service to give advice on what to do in the event of a fire and give advice on fire prevention. So please keep an eye out for the date they are due to visit you, they will be able to have a chat with you to help put your mind at rest.
 

AA, Heath Town

Q. I live in xxx  for 15 years I live there with my wife and 1 daughter. For our my family and other people safety we want sprinkler alarm done in our tower blocks and I do not want cladding done please. Thanks.

A. There is partial cladding on your block which is made from a non-combustible material and performs to “class 0” in terms of spread of flame. This gives a really high level of reassurance about the fire safety of the materials used, but we are still pressing ahead with our own independent checks of how it was fitted. These checks will take place over the next few days and we’ll let you know as soon as we have the results.

At present sprinklers are not required to be retrospectively fitted throughout high rise tower blocks. This may change once the findings of the fire investigation has been completed following the Grenfell Tower disaster. It is expected that the Government and coroner will then make recommendations which will result in fundamental changes being made to the fire regulations and fire safety and this may include guidance on sprinklers. It is impossible to speculate about what any new guidance may be, so if we started to install sprinklers now before any announcements, it is likely that the work may not comply with new safety regulations. We are closely monitoring the situation and we will immediately act on any changes in the fire regulations and building legislation and we will comply with all the new recommendations.

SR, Chetton Green

Q. I received a letter from you concerning fire safety in high rise tower blocks. In this letter you state "we carry out daily fire safety checks in all blocks" what does this involve. Before the works on the electrics in xx the fire alarm sounded every Monday around 11am, but now it doesn't can you explain why this is no longer checked.

A. The fire safety checks cover eight areas, the main checks are:

  • Dry risers and meter room: checking doors meets required fire standards and that dry risers are in working order for the fire service to connect their pipes to in the event of fire.
  • Fire doors: checking doors meet required fire standards.
  • Communal areas and landings: removing any obstacles that would hinder escape in the event of fire, and reporting repairs that are necessary to support fire safety for residents.
  • Stairwells: removing any obstacles that would hinder escape in the event of fire, and reporting repairs that are necessary to support fire safety for residents, checking windows open and close and are secure.
  • Bin room: Checking sprinkler system and that doors meet required fire standards.
  • Refuse chute room: Checking doors including chute hopper meet required fire safety standards, clearing blocked chutes.
  • Lift: Checking cctv cameras, control panel, doors open and close, lift operates to all floors, cctv operation from control room.
  • Door entry system: main doors are operational and secure, condition of doors, checking cctv cameras, cctv operation from control room.

Plus checking for any breaches of fire breaks in all of these areas, making sure all areas are clear of rubbish and checking signage is in place.

In terms of the alarm, your block used to be a sheltered block and had a communal fire alarm. The block is no longer sheltered and the old fire alarm system has been removed, apart from in the ground floor communal areas. Each individual flat has a hard-wired smoke alarm which will operate in the event of a fire.

We’re expecting that once the findings of the fire investigations at Grenfell Tower have been published, the Government and coroner will make recommendations which will result in fundamental changes being made to the fire regulations and fire safety. You can be assured that we will immediately act on any changes in the fire regulations and building legislation that arise from this dreadful disaster and we will comply with all the new recommendations.
 

JB. 

Q. I am concerned following yesterday's fire that (my mother) will be unable to evacuate from the sixth floor and it is obviously unsafe for her to remain in her flat. The advice above is not acceptable as it does not give clear instructions of what to do.I would be pleased if you could investigate and inform me what advice we should give her.

A. I can confirm that all of our high rise blocks were designed for compartmentation in the eventuality of a fire. The stay put policy, despite the issues being raised, is still the preferred option by the fire service. It allows fire fighters to gain access to the blocks via the stairways whilst taking control of the lifts to transport equipment. The stay put policy has been in place for many years and in every situation that we have encountered, the policy has served us well.

Your mother's block is clad with insulated render (not made of plastic, and without spaces to cause a possible “chimney effect” to spread a fire) so it does not pose the same risk as Grenfell Tower. However, we are arranging visits to all of our flats to check access and to further reassure tenants that they won’t be forgotten in any eventuality.

If your mother would like a visit in the meantime, please let me know and I’ll arrange for someone to call on her as soon as possible.

 

NC, Graisley

Q. Is the cladding being sent for testing?

A. The Government is NOT asking for any of the high rise blocks we manage to be tested because we have not used Aluminium Composite Panels like those at Grenfell Tower. (Our cladding systems are either insulated render or solid aluminium panels, and these fully meet safety requirements.)

However, we are taking some of the cladding off at Graiseley and Heath Town, to ensure that it was fitted correctly and we are also sending some of the material for independent testing, as a precautionary measure, despite having no recommendation to do so.

 

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