A BASINGSTOKE apartment block is covered in similar combustible cladding that fatally wrapped Grenfell Tower, The Gazette can reveal.

The external cladding at Crown Heights, which has around 250 flats, contains the flammable material 'expanded polystyrene' and features no fire breaks.

It means that should there be a blaze, it could engulf the whole building in a similar manner to the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017.

The block, located on Alencon Link and managed by FirstPort, failed a recent cladding inspection with the engineer concluding that "an adequate standard of safety is not achieved", adding "remedial and interim measures" are required.

It has left residents fearing for their safety and unable to sell their properties.

In a statement, FirstPort said that the "health and safety of our residents is our absolute priority", and added work to fix the situation is underway.

Survey carried out

The firm confirmed that an intrusive survey of the external cladding was completed at Crown Heights in December 2020, and an independent fire engineer reviewed the findings.

The survey revealed that combustible material was present, grading it B2 on the External Wall System (EWS) 1 form and meaning those living there have been left unable to sell their properties.

The failure has also seen residents given new instructions in the event of a fire - now being told to evacuate rather than abiding by a controversial 'stay put' order.

One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Gazette that it has been stressful knowing that her home was unsafe, whilst being forced to spend more time there because of lockdown.

"I am one of the more fortunate ones in that I have only got myself to think about and a stable job," she said.

"There are residents here that have got disabilities or have young families.

"I am just troubled about the bills. It is very difficult to read the media coverage and see the various stories about residents being given £100,000 bills [to fix the issues]."

The resident, who moved to Crown Heights two and a half years ago and is the leaseholder of a flat, said that the Grenfell tragedy "was in the forefront of my mind" when purchasing the property.

"They assured me that they had done the tests and they passed.

"That was correct, but since then the government widened the scope."

No date for repairs

The latest surveys, carried out just two months ago, mean that the resident that spoke to the Gazette is one of hundreds now living in a building with a fire safety risk.

And despite the shocking revelations, no date has yet been set for repairs to be carried out.

FirstPort told The Gazette that they had applied to the Building Safety Fund, which is designed to fund works to remove combustible cladding from properties.

However, whilst funding was agreed, no date or amount has yet been set, and it could be as long as June for this to be confirmed.

For the resident, not knowing when the building, which also contains a gym, convenience store, sexual health clinic and two doctors' surgeries, will be made safe adds to the stress.

"We would like clarification for costings and timings from remediation, are are pushing our MP to say that leaseholders should not be liable for costs."

What did the property management company say?

A spokesperson for FirstPort said: “We understand how difficult the uncertainty is for residents at Crown Heights.

"We have been doing everything possible to support residents in seeking funding to resolve the fire issues, and we are pleased to learn that the building has now been approved as eligible to apply for the Building Safety Fund.

"We are working through the Government’s application process to get to a position where we can proceed with remedial works as soon as possible. We will keep residents updated regularly as the application progresses.

“The health and safety of our residents is our absolute priority.

"Having taken advice from an external fire engineer, and in consultation with the Hampshire Fire and Rescue service, we will adopt a ‘simultaneous evacuation’ policy in the event of a fire.

"All residents have been made aware of this and know what to do in case of an emergency.”

When asked if they can confirm a timeframe for repairs, or guarantee that leaseholders will not have to bear the cost, the spokesperson said that they had no control over the process, but that the funding from the government was designed to stop costs falling to leaseholders.

Stay put order rescinded

The discovery of combustible cladding materials has seen the management company and Hampshire Fire and Rescue scrap a controversial order for residents to stay in their flats should a fire break out.

Residents are now asked to evacuate if their alarms sound, and a 'waking watch' has been put in place. This is where fire marshals patrol the building 24 hours a day.

But 'stay put' orders are highly controversial - the chair of an inquiry into the Grenfell fire demanded an end to ‘stay put’ policies for all high-rise blocks, and that owners and managers of these buildings should be made to draw up evacuation plans.

Last year, The Gazette reported how concerns were raised after it was revealed that there was a 'stay put' order in place for nearby Churchill Plaza.

What is cladding?

According to the Fire Protection Association, the term cladding refers to the outer skin(s) applied to a high rise building to increase thermal energy efficiency, and/or to improve aesthetics while not adversely affecting weather resistance.

The cladding element is non load bearing, which means it is not structurally integral to the building itself.

Cladding can either be fitted to an existing building of traditional masonry construction or can be incorporated into the design of a brand new building.

In fire safety terms, cladding can be dangerous in a few ways. Firstly, there is the makeup of the cladding system itself.

If the cladding system in question contains combustible materials, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS) or polyurethane (PUR), then exposing these materials to a flame will result in fire spread on the outside of a building. This can occur through either a fire breaking out from one of the windows or doorways, through ventilation shafts or from a fire that has occurred on the outside.

EPS was found in the cladding on Crown Heights.

  • If you live in Crown Heights and want to speak about this, please get in touch. You can email ryan.evans@basingstokegazette.co.uk.