Fire safety in Reading residential tower blocks

The council owns 6,893 residential dwellings including houses, flats, temporary accommodation and sheltered housing. The council directly manages 5,608 of these properties and 1,285 in North Whitley are managed under contract by Affinity Housing.  The stock includes 375 blocks of flats.

There are seven blocks over 18m high in Reading. There are three 14-storey blocks of flats in Wensley Road, Reading, (RG1 6ED), and four eight-storey blocks in Granville Road, Southcote (RG30 3QD), with a total of 427 flats in these 7 blocks – as detailed below.

Block locationNo. of blocksFlats per blockHeight of blocks/storeys
Wensley Road38942 m high, 15 storeys
Granville Road44022m high, 8 storeys

Cladding

None of these tower blocks use the same ACM (Aluminium Composite material) or plastic cladding that was used at Grenfell Tower.

The cladding used in Reading’s tower blocks is external wall insulation with a cement render finish.

None of our tower blocks use cladding panels. The Wensley Road tower blocks have external wall insulation and there are some areas that have cavities between the external insulation and the mainly concrete construction, but on the limited elevations where they do occur, fire breaks are in place to stop the spread of fire. None of the other flatted blocks have cavities.

None of the blocks have undergone a refurbishment which would have included the use of cladding. Wensley Rd flats were constructed in 1960 in solid reinforced concrete (Wimpey No-fines)  and were externally insulated in the 1990’s. Granville Road flats were constructed in 1958 in solid reinforced concrete (Wimpey No fines) and were externally insulated in the late 1980’s.

We have a good knowledge of our housing block construction types and have assessed the fire risk in respect of these.  The council would like to test all cladding materials to provide maximum safety assurance. The council has approached the BRE which is the body carrying out testing for the Government but the agency has stated that it is not currently prioritising testing of non-ACM panels.  

Fire escapes

There are two fire escapes fitted on each of the seven tower blocks in Reading.

Fire safety measures

The Coley high rise flats have fire exits at both ends of the blocks and have a call-point fire alarm system in communal areas which can be heard throughout the building when activated. The Granville Road flats each have two communal staircases accessed via external balconies. All flats have their own smoke alarms which sound internally. Communal doors and the front doors of all flats are standard fire doors with smoke seals and strips which swell when in contact with heat to seal the door completely. This prevents smoke and fire entering a property, or from spreading from a property for a period of time. If tenants find, between our inspections, any damage to any of these features they should report them as a matter of urgency to our Repairs Helpdesk who will arrange repairs as a priority.  

Sprinklers

Currently there are only sprinklers in the bin storage areas.

Fire risk assessments

In the light of the Grenfell Tower fire and to provide assurance to our tenants the council has carried out  Fire Risk Assessments in all blocks. These were completed in early July. Prior to this Fire Risk Assessments were last carried out as follows:           

  • 193 Wensley Rd  – 23/6/17
  • 203 Wensley Rd – 19/1/16
  • 205 Wensley Rd – 23/6/17
  • 28 Granville Rd  – 29/8/16
  • 34 Granville Rd  – 29/8/16
  • 38 Granville Rd  – 29/8/16
  • 42 Granville Rd  – 29/8/16

A fully qualified fire risk assessor is responsible for carrying out the assessments. They are a trained officer of the council.

None of the risk assessments showed the high rise buildings to be at high risk from fire.

Royal Berkshire Fire Service

The council owns and manages 375 blocks of flats. Since 2009, the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service has audited circa 90 per cent of the council’s blocks of flats with communal areas and have not raised any significant issues.   Since the Grenfell Tower fire the Fire Service have visited and visually inspected all of the council’s high rise blocks. Once RBFRS have visited a building they will notify the owner/landlord of any issues noted which require action. They can issue a ‘deficiency notice’ on a building and no notices have been served on the council in recent years.

The council is working closely with RBFRS and we are sharing information in regard to our building stock.  We welcome inspections from the fire brigade on our high-rise blocks or other housing stock. We will continue to liaise with our fire and rescue service colleagues for advice and support and to ensure we have as complete an understanding as possible across agencies and can provide up to date advice to tenants and residents.

None of these buildings have been found to have a category 1 fire hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

Fires in recent years

Fires have all been successfully contained in the originating area and where fires have been inside flats, none of them have spread outside the flat. Details of the fires are below.

DateAddressCause
06/06/200934 Granville RoadArson
01/02/2010Lift foyer 205 Wensley RoadArson, opportunist, trade waste
07/03/2011`203 Wensley RoadArson fire originating in bin store area, lighted cigarette in a ball of paper, started deliberately. Smoke filled corridor.
10/04/2011193 Wensley RoadFire originating on stove
03/05/2011203 Wensley RoadFire originating in flat
21/07/2011205 Wensley RoadFire originating in kitchen
25/12/2011205 Wensley RoadFire originating in bin store. Arson by persons unknown.
12/08/2013205 Wensley RoadElectrical fire originating in flat
16/09/201428 Granville RoadFire originating in flat

Fire safety advice to people living in the blocks

Every block of flats has a fire notice board with an evacuation plan and factsheet giving advice regarding what to do in the event of a fire. Advice to tenants, provided by the fire service, is still to remain inside your flat if there is a fire elsewhere in the block – unless:

  • smoke or heat starts to affect your flat
  • the fire is in the flat next door
  • or the fire brigade tell you to evacuate the building

in which case you should leave the block using the stairs if it is safe to do so.  Please see the guidance from RBFRS in the link here: Fire safety advice for residents living in high-rise buildings.  This link has been included on the front page of the Council’s website.

If residents still have concerns

If tenants and residents in council high rise blocks have any further questions or concerns they should contact their Housing Officer on 0118 937 2161.

For tenants in the private rented sector, they can contact the Private Sector Housing team on 0118 937 2151.