Unite Students applies to remove cladding from seven-storey blocks

Piccadilly Court, Caledonian Road, August 2023 where Unite Students have applied to remove cladding

Piccadilly Court, Caledonian Road, August 2023 where Unite Students have applied to remove cladding. Photograph: Julia Gregory, free for use by partners of BBC news wire service

Potentially harmful cladding is likely to be removed from two blocks of student accommodation in Islington.

Unite Students has asked for planning permission to take the building material off two seven-storey blocks of student flats in Clerkenwell and near Pentonville prison.

It is the latest application as businesses and homeowners across the country continue work to remove cladding from high rise homes, following the Grenfell Tower disaster in west London in 2017.

Property owners prioritised taking cladding off buildings 18m or higher.

Unite Students hopes to remove high-pressure laminate (HPL) cladding from the 15.3m Arbour House on the corner of Sebastian Street and Goswell Road, close to City University, which has 73 bedrooms.

Another application is for the removal of cladding from the 17m Piccadilly Court, in Caledonian Road. The block was purpose built in 2002 which is a 20-minute walk from University College London and the University of London.

Both buildings are clad in a range of building materials.

Unite Students said an independent review said both blocks have been “have been independently verified as safe to occupy.”

According to fire safety reports by fire engineer Amardeep Natt included in the planning application there was “a high risk of uncontrolled fire spread”.

“At high level, it was found that the materials forming the external walls, combined with missing and defective cavity barriers and fire stopping, render the building a risk of uncontrolled fire spread and thus a high risk.”

A Unite Students spokesperson said: “Fire safety is a critical part of our health and safety strategy and the safety of our students is always our top priority. We remain committed to leading the sector in improving fire safety, introducing safety processes and features that go above and beyond standard or government requirements and we have strengthened fire safety measures in place in both of these properties to further prevent fires.”

Unite Students said safety measures are in place until the cladding is removed.

“We have acted swiftly to review all our buildings to make sure they meet the latest fire safety standards. This includes staff members on site 24/7 and increased building patrols. We have also increased measures to ensure early detection, alert and response should a fire occur. We will be pursuing claims against contractors.”

The company reviewed cladding and fire safety remedial work following building safety advice from the government after the Grenfell Tower disaster.

It found 27 blocks which had cladding which needed to be replaced and prioritised blocks 18m and higher. It also found a further 11 which needed remedial work.

It has finished work at 13 properties, with ongoing work at another 18.

According to its mid-year results, the remaining cost of completing remedial works is expected to be £72.3m and it will pick up a £45.2 m share of the bill, including of £26.9m for properties it owns entirely.

It said:” We will ensure we remain aligned to fire safety regulations as they evolve and will continue to make any required investment to ensure our buildings remain safe to occupy.”

The company said it builds properties “in accordance with Building Regulation requirements, consulting with Fire Authorities and Building Control authorities regularly throughout the planning and build process.”

Buildings have a “comprehensive fire alarm system which are connected to our 24/7 and 365 day per year internal Emergency Contact Centre” and the company works with the fire service to test these measures.

The spokesperson said staff are trained in fire safety management to prevent fires. This includes building inspections, routine testing, evacuations, and fire safety engagement with residents.