Developer of high-rise student block in Portsmouth sends cladding for testing

Unite Students accommodation on Greetham Street, in Portsmouth. 
Picture by: Malcolm Wells
Unite Students accommodation on Greetham Street, in Portsmouth. Picture by: Malcolm Wells

Women-only train carriages should be used to combat sexual violence, says Labour MP

11
Have your say

THE developer of a high-rise student block in the centre of Portsmouth has sent cladding used on the building for testing.

Unite Students, which owns the housing block on Greetham Street, said in a statement the move was a precautionary measure and that it had ‘robust’ fire safety measures in place.

It comes as an investigation by BBC Newsnight found in a leaked confidential report that the testing for the cladding on the 24-storey building – similar to that used on Grenfell Tower – was done using a legal alternative to laboratory testing, called a desktop study.

It was one of two reports the BBC obtained, showing how materials now in use at the student accommodation block was approved.

‘Desktop studies,’ BBC Newsnight said, is when a developer wishes to follow plans similar to a setup which has already been fire-tested.

The developer can ask an engineer to perform a desktop study, certifying that the proposed construction would pass the test but without a test being carried out.

This desktop study test was used for the Unite Students building, which has 761 single-bed rooms and 75 studio flats.

In a statement issued to The News, Unite Students said: ‘The building was opened only last September and was built in accordance with all regulations.

‘Its design incorporates a comprehensive fire safety strategy including a range of measures, including a sprinkler system, common L2 fire alarm and a wet riser system.

‘These are all supported by an emergency backup power supply and subject to regular periodic testing.

‘The Hampshire Fire and Safety team has visited the building and we are confident the fire safety systems we have in place at Greetham Street are robust.

‘As an extra precaution, we last week commenced a thorough inspection of all our high rise buildings and will be submitting the materials used at Greetham Street for further independent testing under the government approved scheme.’

The BBC Newsnight report added the two reports both related to a style of cladding system similar to that used at Grenfell Tower, a combustible insulation material underneath aluminium composite panels.

Neither of the reports proposed using the same materials as those used on Grenfell Tower.

Both reports related to aluminium cladding containing fire retardants.

Fiona Bell, director of estates and campus services at the University of Portsmouth, said: ‘In light of the issues raised as a result of the Grenfell tragedy, we are working with all of our partner accommodation providers, including Unite Students, and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service to provide assurances regarding the fire safety of the properties owned and operated by these providers in Portsmouth.

‘The Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service has previously visited the building and the university has been assured by Unite the fire safety systems in place at Greetham Street are robust.

‘As an extra precaution, last week Unite commenced a thorough inspection of all its high-rise buildings and will be submitting the materials used at Greetham Street for further independent testing under the government approved scheme.

‘Additionally, Hampshire Fire Service will be carrying out a pre-arranged safety inspection of the property tomorrow jointly with Unite and University of Portsmouth representatives.

‘Representatives from the university visited the property today to discuss any concerns with the students currently in residence. Alternative accommodation has been secured for any students wishing to be relocated while further testing is completed.’

As previously reported in The News, other tower blocks in the city have had their cladding tested for fire risks.

An examination of samples from Harding House and Ockendon House, in High Street, Cosham, and Southdown View, in Military Road, Hilsea, revealed the buildings’ cladding was a risk.

The investigation was launched by Vivid Homes, which owns all three buildings.

Portsmouth City Council is also working to remove cladding at Horatia House and Leamington House in Somers Town after the tests revealed they too were a risk.