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‘Council don’t come back to us over safety concerns,’ say high-rise tenants

Residents in 23-storey tower claim they first told Islington Council in 2010 that the block’s 1960s fire doors did not fully close

30 June, 2017 — By Emily Finch

Residents outside Michael Cliffe House

FIRE safety concerns at a tower block in Clerken­well were ignored by the Town Hall for years, according to residents.

People living in 23-storey Michael Cliffe House, in Skinner Street, said they first told Islington Council in 2010 – a year after the disastrous Lakanal House fire in Camberwell – that the block’s 1960s fire doors did not fully close.

They also warned about open circuit boxes and trailing cables on balconies used as a fire escape route.

Residents said around a third of doors, which have not been replaced, are at fault. But a fire risk assessment by the council in July last year found the fire doors were properly fitted and deemed “low risk”.

They have raised concerns about MDF wood panelling, exposed wiring and a lack of sprinklers and fire alarms in the block’s communal areas.

Sarah Nash, who lives on the 17th floor and is a member of Finsbury Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said residents were worried about the gas piping. “We email the council, have regular meetings with the council and often they don’t come back to us,” she said.

Her association, which is not funded, was asked by the Town Hall to print out and distribute leaflets about fire safety to 185 homes, she said.

Mark Spencer, 49, who lives on the 18th floor, added: “We’ve had a new heating system but they’ve not actually removed the old pipework, which means communal stairwells are narrower, blocking fire exits, and communal spaces are full of wood and crud which would fuel a fire.”

This week, residents were backed by Professor Arnold Dix, a fire safety expert who carried out a full inspection of the block. In his report, he said the building was “inherently safe”, but added: “The council should consider an immediate upgrade of the emergency staircases’ fire and smoke protection doors, an audit and reinstatement of fire separation between the floors, and penetrations into homes to re-establish the original fire safety concept. Installation of sprinklers in this building should be considered as part of a systematic fire safety upgrade.”

Prof Dix said that cabling through balconies and the hot water system installation, which has introduced penetrations vertically through the building, “should be remediated with an approved firestop solution”.

The Town Hall had not respond to a request for comment yesterday (Thursday) but did say that its housing inspection team launched a full inspection of the block on Wednesday.

It said this week that the dry risers in the block will be converted to wet risers, which are permanently charged with water for firefighting.

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