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London estate evacuated over structural safety fears

19 Oct 20 One of London’s largest housing associations is evacuating approximately 1,000 residents from six tower blocks on one of its estates.

The Paragon estate
The Paragon estate

Paragon is a development of six modular blocks containing a total of 1,059 homes and student rooms in Brentford, Hounslow.

The estate was constructed in 2006 by Berkeley First, part of the Berkeley Group, and was owned initially by the former Presentation Housing Association, which became part of Notting Hill Housing – now Notting Hill Genesis – in 2009.

The tallest block, at 17 storeys, was the tallest modular tower in the UK at the time. The elements were factory-made by Caledonian Building Systems. There are 21 different module types, made of hot rolled steel with cold steel walls and plasterboard.

Notting Hill Genesis (NHG) is now evacuating the buildings for a comprehensive building and fire safety review. A spokesperson said that there were both structural and fire safety issues, but although there are faults with the cladding, this was ‘not a Grenfell Tower situation’ – the cladding is not combustible, just leaky and not properly affixed, thus fire spread could be an issue.  

The decision to evacuate to enable further investigative work was taken after expert advice provided by consultants employed by Notting Hill Genesis. 

Notting Hill Genesis said that it would ensure that all residents living in the Paragon Estate were able to access safe alternative accommodation this week. It will also work with residents to find a longer-term solution to their housing needs where necessary.

The further investigations will establish the full extent of the structural and fire safety issues that have been uncovered at the development and identify next steps. 

Earlier building performance issues, together with fire safety issues related to the cladding and the subsequent new government guidance since the fire at Grenfell Tower, triggered a series of safety checks at Paragon, undertaken by technical consultants. These have each revealed further problems with this development.  

Notting Hill Genesis has taken action to address these risks as they have arisen, it said, including establishing waking watches and temporary alarms, and introducing simultaneous evacuation procedures, but the latest advice has prompted the organisation to act in order to protect its residents, it said.

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Kate Davies, group chief executive of Notting Hill Genesis, said: “First, I want to say how sorry we are to residents that we have had to take this action and disrupt their lives. But, as a not-for-profit housing association, our priority is to provide safe, affordable housing. We always ensure the wellbeing of our residents, so while we are incredibly disappointed to have to make this decision, we believe that we have no choice but to ask people to leave their homes on the Paragon estate.

“I understand that Paragon residents may feel angry or alarmed by this news, as they have every right to be. This is a very distressing time and we are genuinely sorry for the huge amount of disruption and uncertainty that this situation will cause.

“This is a complex situation and we don’t yet have all the answers. We are working to uncover the full extent of the issues at Paragon so that we can provide residents with clarity about timescales, next steps and options as quickly as possible.

“We are doing all we can to support people who live in Paragon through this difficult situation. We have identified safe accommodation for everyone to move into this week and are providing financial support to help them do that. We are also giving everyone a dedicated caseworker to discuss their specific needs both now and for the longer-term where necessary.”

Paragon comprises six blocks of residential and student accommodation, plus two commercial buildings that are not owned by Notting Hill Genesis group. 

Block A is a five-storey building with 41 flats for intermediate market rent. Block B is three interconnected buildings of four, five and nine storeys with 107 shared ownership leasehold units and 72 for intermediate rent.

Blocks C, D, E and F range from 5 to 17 storeys and house 839 students primarily from the University of West London.

The freeholds of Blocks C through F are owned by Touareg Trust, which is a registered charity and is a subsidiary of Notting Hill Genesis. 

Blocks A and B are owned by Notting Hill Genesis. Notting Hill Home Ownership Limited, a not-for-profit subsidiary of Notting Hill Genesis, holds a long leasehold interest at Block B where the shared ownership homes are located. 

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