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Timber frame during the erection phase

Axa and Aviva deny timber frame insurance withdrawal threat
Published:  09 March, 2010

Insurance giants Axa and Aviva have denied that they are threatening to withdraw cover on timber frame buildings, following a story in Building magazine alleging that the insurace industry saw timber frame as too high a fire risk.

The article quoted both companies and said that “insurers could pull cover for completed timber frame building amid growing concerns over safety and the spiralling cost of claims”.

It added that this warning, followed a “surge in the number of fires in large timber frame buildings”.

Aviva spokesperson Eric Nelson said that the company addressed each building’s risk on an individual basis.

“We have not threatened to withdraw cover from timber frame as a whole, nor would we ever address a single construction method in this way,” he said.

He added that Aviva had been addressing concerns over timber frame fire safety in the construction phase, as has the UK Timber Frame Association (UKTFA).

“But the result of this will most likely be risk management advice, not a withdrawal of cover,” he said.

Aviva has asked Building to correct its report, he said.

Axa media relations executive Allyson Da-anoy said that the company had made submissions on high rise timber frame via the insurance body RISCAuthority to a London assembly investigation into building fire safety, but described the Building magazine headline “Insurers threaten to pull cover for timber frame” as “inflammatory”.

“We have had concerns about fire safety in high rise timber frame buildings built in recent years, and issues have been acknowledged by the UKTFA, but we are not threatening to withdraw cover,” she said.

"Following the surge in the use of timber frame, as well as other modern methods of construction, in high rise in England in recent years, we do think there is an education opportunity for the industry, to explain how these buildings are constructed and their fire performance," said Axa head of customer risk managment Douglas Barnett. "But we certainly do not have a down on timber or timber frame. We want to work together with the industry to assess where we are now and how we go forward. For instance, perhaps there is a need to retrain fire fighters in tackling fires in these kinds of building and follow-on trades to ensure they don't take claw hammers to wall panels and compromise fire-stops in the cavity."

The Building report cited a series of blazes in timber frame construction sites as lying behind insurance industry concerns over fire safety. In one, in Peckham last November, it said there were six fatalities. This is in fact wrong. A fire on a part-finished Greenacre Homes timber frame site in Peckham that month caused serious damage, but no fatalities. It seems the story was confusing this incident with the blaze in the concrete panel tower block Lakanal House in Camberwell last July in which six people were killed.