A serious fire at the Samuel Garside House development in Barking, London resulted in a discussion about an industrial fire-retardant pre-treatment for the timber balconies and cladding across the front of the building.

The six-storey building in De Pass Gardens featured timber balconies, balcony dividers and extensive balustrading, to the extent that it has been referred to as ‘timber cladding’.

The England-based Timber Trade Federation (TTF) and Wood Protection Association (WPA) collectively agree that treatment was essential in this situation, even though it would appear that this was not required by building regulations and the project was subsequently approved by building control. The lack of a flame-retardant treatment combined with multiple small cross sections of timber with plenty of air movement around each panel, in TTF’s and WPA’s opinion created an unnecessary fire risk.

“If a comprehensive fire risk assessment had been conducted on this design it would have been clear that additional protection was required in these particular circumstances,” says TTF managing director Dave Hopkins.

It has emerged that the timber supplied for the project had a ‘Euroclass D, s2, d0’ reaction to fire rating. Flame retardant pre-treatments are readily available which could have upgraded the timber components to the more appropriate, much higher Class B rating. If that had been done, the timber decking and cladding would have performed very differently. Such industrial flame-retardant processes are subject to independent quality assurance under a well-respected scheme operated by the WPA.

“The privatisation of Building Control services in the UK does not help in these situations. Building Control service providers are nervous about specifying standards higher than strictly required by Building Regulations (even if appropriate as was the case at Barking), in case the contractor switches to another service provider who will approve the design at the lower standard and cost. Indeed, this point was also highlighted in the Hackitt review in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy,” adds Gordon Ewbank, WPA chief executive.