Student residents of the Paragon complex in Brentford, west London were told on Monday 19th that they would have a week to move out.
Students were told that they had until Sunday 25th to leave as the building’s fire prevention was substandard and they were in danger in the event of a fire breaking out in halls.
Located in Brentford, a 35 minute commute away from South Kensington, the Paragon complex is composed of around 1000 units in 6 towers that usually house students from the University of West London (UWL) as well as lease holders and key workers.
In response to oversubscribed courses Imperial rented space from UWL in order to be able to provide accommodation to every first-year student. Approximately 150 Imperial students have been affected by the news.
Imperial students will be moved to Chapter housing in Islington, from Thursday, using a professional removals company paid for by NHG and taxis provided by Imperial. They will, however, be separated from UWL students who will be moved to Wembley and residents that will be moved into hotels.
The building was completed in a mere 21 months in 2007 by the Berkeley First, part of the luxury developer Berkeley Homes group. The £100 million project won awards including the Major housing project of the year 2007 award for its innovative construction that saw a 6-story building be constructed in only 5 days.
This was a major undertaking for the company that had previously never constructed a building taller than 9 stories. The Paragon complex incorporates a 17-story tower.
The construction process was also very rapid with a modular construction technique employed that shaved a whole year of the building process in comparison to traditional techniques. However, questions are raised as articles from the time recount how the company did not have time to let the concrete core of the building completely dry before bolting connecting steelwork to it. Additionally, at the time the 17-story tower was believed to be the tallest modular building in the world.
The complex is now owned by Notting Hill Genesis (NHG) a housing association whose stated purpose is “to provide decent and affordable homes for lower-income households”.
Following the deaths of 72 people in the Grenfell fire tragedy flaws in the design of the Paragon complex were identified and measures to bring the building back into fire compliance were begun in 2017. NHG also began legal action in 2018 against 4 companies involved in the construction of the building to recoup the cost of the £8 million cladding replacement and fire break installation job, including the architects.
Katie Bond, group director of sales and building safety at NHG, said: “This is not solely a cladding issue.” The results of surveys, the most recent in the past two weeks, were “like peeling an onion” of layer upon layer of fire defects. She would not say which issue exactly had prompted the evacuation.
While defects were known about in 2017 more recent surveys and updated advice from consultants working with NHG stated that interim measures such as ‘waking watches’, a 24/7 fire warden, and special evacuation procedures were no longer sufficient and that the problems in the building were so bad that evacuation was necessary.
A college spokesperson has told Felix that “We sought and received robust assurances about the building’s safety before securing this student accommodation.”
Felix has been told that evacuation will also allow the taking out of bathrooms, wall and appliances in order to identify the full extent of the problems and demolition has not been ruled out.
Students will remain in Islington for the forseeable future with no plans to move back to Brentford.
UWL, Churchmore, Caledonian modular, CJCT have not responded to requests to comment.