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Sainsbury sues over store blaze

Architect Broadway Malyan set to face charges of negligent design at Chichester

SAINSBURY is suing its architect after a devastating fire completely destroyed its superstore in Chichester in December 1993, causing millions of pounds worth of damage.

The supermarket giant alleges architect Broadway Malyan was negligent in the design of the store. Broadway Malyan is contesting the action.

Sainsburys High Court writ, issued last week, claims damages for damage to property and consequential loss and damage.

The superstore would not comment on the exact size of the claim, but the store was rebuilt at a cost of 8 million and reopened in August 1994, eight months after the fire.

A report by the West Sussex fire brigade blamed arson. It said the fire started in boxes of crisps in the stockroom.

But senior fire officers were stunned by the speed with which the fire ripped through the rest of the store. More than 150 firefighters, 25 fire appliances and three hydraulic platforms were unable to save the store.

Attention focused on Sainsburys policy of not fitting fire sprinklers, a decision which has since been reversed on insurance grounds.

And the fire brigade report criticised the Department of the Environment for relaxing the building regulations to allow Sainsbury to build the store without fire breaks in the false ceiling of the sales area.

But the report also highlighted the failure of the fire-resistant wall between the stockroom and the rest of the store.

Sainsbury spokeswoman Michelle Lewis said: It is alleged that, in designing the store, the architect failed to properly design the structure between the bulk storage area and the remainder of the store, so as to ensure two-hour fire resistance, and that this was an important factor in the spread of the fire.

The claim is for damage resulting from the failure of the wall to restrict the fire in the bulk storage area.

Hugh Cole, senior partner at Broadway Malyan, said: We will continue to resist the claim that our design is negligent, but it is impossible for us to comment further at the moment.

The Chichester fire was the second big supermarket blaze in the space of six months, sparking widespread concern about fire safety.

A Tesco store in Maidstone was completely destroyed in June 1993, causing damage estimated at 18 million.

Tesco issued a writ against the architect involved, Norman Hitchcock Partnership, in October 1993.

Sainsbury said Broadway Malyan had been involved in the design of several other superstores. These have been surveyed since the fire and we are satisfied that no similar design faults are present, said Ms Lewis.