Following this serious fire it has been decided by the Codes Consortium to put the following information into the public domain: 

Background

Urban Student Life were suspended from the ANUK/Unipol National Code of Standards for Larger Developments for student accommodation NOT managed and controlled by educational establishments for a minimum period on one year following a meeting of the Tribunal held on 25th August 2016. The Tribunal also decided that, if there was an application for readmission then verification visits would be undertaken to all of their sites and the Codes Audit Panel would need to be satisfied that they were meeting the standards of the Code before readmission.

The Tribunal and associated paperwork have been removed from the National Code website because three years had passed by August 2019. The Tribunal upheld a number of breaches of the Code relating to Asquith House in Leeds in respect of the building being late, the arrangements made for students, the notification students had received and the lack of guidelines on fire safety procedures and information given to tenants. Following the Tribunal Leeds City Council inspected the building and closed it because of building regulatory non-compliance.

Subsequently Urban Student Life changed its controlling ownership and became Valeo USL and an application to re-join the Code was received on 18th October 2019. Over the summer of 2018 a number of “pre-application visits” to 14 of their sites were undertaken. Two of their sites were then selected for a more detailed verification: The Cube in Bolton and The Pavilion in Leeds and these were visited on 28th February 2019. The verifier recommended that membership should not be granted until a further visit was held to ensure a number of action points were competed. This visit took place on 5th April 2019 and all health and safety action points had been completed and the verifier then recommended that membership should be awarded.

The National Code Audit Panel reviewed this recommendation at its meeting held on 24th April 2019 and withheld membership until every action point had been completed. These were undertaken and Valeo USL was awarded membership on 29th May 2019 after a verification process that had taken the best part of a year.

Documentation

The Code Verification Report for The Cube is for the visit that took place on 28th February 2019. In the first section the self-assessment is compared to the verifier profile in respect of each clause of the Code.

Section 6.12 recorded that there was a significant amount of cladding present at the Cube and that the Code needed to receive evidence that the cladding had been approved as safe. A copy of a new Fire Risk Assessment was also required under 6.13. A number of action points were noted together with a timescale for completion. The matters relating to the cladding and the FRA had a deadline of 31st March 2019.

A Fire Risk Assessment was undertaken by Total Fire Solutions Limited on The Cube and is dated 26th January 2019. An action plan was provided as part of the FRA.

Assent Building Control signed off the works and issued a final certificate in accordance with Section 51 of the Building Act 1984 on 19th February 2019.  Two separate certificates were issued by mdl Insulations Limited both dated 24th January 2019 certificating that the fire stopping and cladding had been correctly installed. It is difficult to know whether these certificates covered absolutely all the relevant regulatory requirements but as the Code makes clear “the verification process does not directly test compliance with any statutory or contractual obligations and in no way absolves the providing organisation from their responsibilities to comply with such requirements.”

A revisit undertaken on 5th April 2019 reviewed progress and noted that only minor matters were still to be competed. None of these related to the structure of the building but dealt with window cleaning and fridge/freezer capacity.

Once these matters had been attended to, National Code status was awarded on May 29th 2019.

Evaluation

The standards and methodology of the Code were undertaken properly and as intended. The verifier was very experienced and their initial visit highlighted where there were issues that required attention and where further documentation was required. These were defined as action points and were undertaken and were checked as having been undertaken.

All the relevant documentation was seen and evaluated and specific attention was given to fire safety and the cladding system. Documentation was received from reputable sources indicating that this complied with building regulations and had been installed safely.

It is clear, that the major fire that took place revealing some serious shortcoming in the building. It is unlikely that the management of the building, unless it had declined from when the inspections took place, were at the root of any of the problems experienced.

The investigation of the fire will reveal the cause of the fire and what happened to cause the compartmentalisation of the building to fail. During the verification no deficiencies were visually evident and the documentation supplied certified the building’s risk to be within the normal range for high rise high density student PBSA.

The building regulatory requirements are far from clear and are subject to significant review by MHCLG who have consulted on a number of proposed reforms. The opening words of the opening page of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety by Dame Judith Hackitt says “In my interim report published in December 2017 I described how the regulatory system covering high-rise and complex buildings was not fit for purpose. In the intervening period, we have seen further evidence confirming the deep flaws in the current system.”

Paragraph 6.14 of that review stated “Government should ensure that the regulations are fit for purpose and that the regulator operates effectively in order to ensure buildings are safe.”

It is this lack of clarity that causes problems in establishing building standards and ensuring their compliance and enforcement and, regrettably, neither monitoring by either educational institutions or the National Code, can act as a substitute for this reform.

On 16th November a statement was made by ANUK/Unipol as follows:

STATEMENT FOLLOWING THE FIRE AT THE CUBE IN BOLTON

The ANUK/Unipol National Code is very concerned about the fire that occurred on 15th November 2019 and, although two students were treated for injuries, we understand there were no other serious injuries or loss of life. Our own records show that there was no ACM cladding fitted to this building.

Statement Following the Fire at The Cube in Bolton

“Student accommodation of this size has a rigorous fire safety regime and the detection and alarm systems allowed the building to be safely evacuated.

The rapid spread of the fire, as reported, does cause additional concerns because fire compartmentalisation would have been built into the design and regulatory approval of the building and we will await the results of the investigation from the Fire and Rescue Authorities as to both the cause of the fire and why is spread so quickly. We will keep this matter under review and if, following action by the Government, there are wider implications for the Code we will be keen to review any relevant aspects of the conditions.

The Company managing this building, Urban Student Life, were suspended from the National Code back in 2016 and were readmitted at the end of May 2019 after a revisit to a number of their sites to ensure that they were in full compliance with the conditions of the National Code by a highly trained and experienced verifier and the management was found to be compliant.

The National Codes Tribunal and Complaints system is an active system and details of recent cases can be found at https://www.nationalcode.org/Pages/Category/complaint-outcomes