The council could not stop private contractors using flammable insulation similar to that used in Grenfell Tower in a development which recently burnt down.

At 11.18am on August 17 firefighters were called to Burton Road behind The Broadway in Debden where they found a half-built apartment complex in flames.

By 1.15pm the fire was out at the £10m project, which will comprise of 51 affordable units, made up of 17 homes and 34 flats.

Investigations by Epping Forest District Council and Essex Fire and Rescue Service found a molten tar bucket had sparked insulation on the building's roof, causing a huge plume of dark smoke visible from central London to rise off the b.

At a council meeting on Thursday (August 30), Paul Pledger, assistant director of housing, admitted the insulation was a flammable, polyurethane based brand similar if not the same to the Celotex used in Grenfell Tower.

When pressed by Loughton Resident Association councillor Chris Pond on why the insulation was chosen over flame retardant alternatives, Mr Pledger argued the contract with building firm Mulalley had been signed three years ago - before 72 people lost their lives in the Kensington tragedy.

He said: "It's a design and build contract so we didn't have the luxury of the knowledge that's coming now out of Grenfell and we didn't get to specify fibreglass or rockwool as you are suggesting.

"There are lots of pros and cons with all of these materials.

"We are not able to specify a particular product under a design and build contract because that means it is anticompetitive and the advice we have had from our solicitors is that we need to leave it to the contractors.

"We do have to rely on building regulations. We can't change them because they are a statutory set of regulations used across the country."

Cllr Pond seemed taken aback by the admission.

He said: " I wonder whether this ever came up following the Grenfell fire whether we should, for all their problems, go for rockwool or glass fibre even though it may have been at extra expense.

"I am a little surprised after all the publicity from Grenfell that we didn't think twice about specifying totally non combustible material rather than an oil based derivative."

Despite the ferocity of the blaze and the flammable materials, the development was largely unscathed and will continue almost to schedule.

The fire was contained to just one part of the building and the damage largely superficial.

Mr Pledger continued: "I have to say it isn't as bad as we thought it was.

"A structural engineer has visited the site and he has confirmed that the building is sound and stable.

"There are no structural issues with the building."

Aside from a steel beam built inside the staircase, the interior of the building is mostly intact.

Mr Hall added: "Internally it is very limited and it is really just to the immediate areas around the windows and doors.

"Surprisingly there is very little water damage which suggests the roofing material did its job."

The explosions heard by those on The Broadway were not of the gas bottles stored on the roof, but pressurised fire extinguishers.

If everything goes well, the majority of the flats to the side of those which bore the brunt of the fire will be handed over to residents by Christmas.

Those on the lower floor of the section affected will likely suffer a six week delay, with the hardest hit, upper floors to be completed a month later.