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Taplow: ‘Good job’ but fire risk remains

13 July, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Mike Cooke

I HAVE found myself entering into a long correspondence with the council’s chief executive, Mike Cooke, over the standard of workmanship at the controversial Taplow tower in the equally controversial Chalcots estate.

I sent him a letter, reported in last week’s column, pointing out the need to repair what appeared to be a badly fitted window of a studio flat on the 19th floor as well as a questionable dangerous looking flue that once fed a gas fire.

He replied quickly, saying a senior building supervisor would look into the complaints. As good as his word, his supervisor, Pat O’Neill, turned up the next day and 24 hours later so did workmen who replaced the old window frame – mainly made of plastic – with a plasterboard one. “And a very good job they did,” the tenant, Ivor Grealey, told me. “It’s now a safe window and no longer a fire risk.”

However, Mr Grealey isn’t completely happy. First, he worries about a cavity between the concrete wall running up the building and his window which, he fears, could act as a chimney in the case of a fire. Second, that his kitchen window also requires replacing, while the old gas fire flue needs to be inspected.

When the block was refurbished in 2006-8 the gas fires were replaced by a central heating system – and in Mr Grealey’s flat the workmen, he said, left a hole in the wall where the fire had been attached to the flue, which he had covered up.

Ivor Grealey

While I didn’t mention Mr Grealey’s suspect kitchen window in my letter to Mike Cooke I did refer to the “hole in the wall”.

Yesterday (Wednesday) I sent a second letter to Mr Cooke pointing out that Mr Grealey’s “hole in the wall” still needed to be investigated, and that the new window frame was made of “plaster­board”, not plastic as before.

You might think this is the sort of minutiae that doesn’t deserve all this attention but what lies behind it is the looming shadow of Taplow whose tenants were evacuated three weeks ago after the London Fire Service warned the block was a “fire risk”.

It was this that would have – understandably – prompted Mr Cooke to act quickly in dealing with complaints made by Mr Grealey through this column.

What comes next? Mr Grealey, a former building worker, has been moved to a sheltered home, allowing for a fire-resistant, plasterboard new window to be installed in his flat. But according to Mr Grealey, a cavity between his flat and the flats above and below his still exists – and remains a fire risk as a fire could run through the cavity as through a chimney. Furthermore, his kitchen window needs a replacement, and his gas fire flue requires an investigation – it, too, could be a fire risk.

Repairs to Mr Grealey’s flat are being carried out in a piecemeal way, leaving many questions unanswered.

Mr Grealey is the first to congratulate the council workmen for having completed a “first rate job”. “When they saw the original window, they tutted about the shoddy workmanship, but then got on with the job,” he told me. “But the fire risk remains in my flat – and what about the other flats, are they being left as they are or are they going to be repaired like mine was?” he asked.

My recent reports about the condition of a single tenant’s flat should be seen against the background of the Taplow tower which is bristling with faulty workmanship and condemned as a “fire risk”.

The present condition of Mr Grealey’s may be seen as a symbol of continuing failures of his landlord – Camden Council.­

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