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Tenants’ warning: ‘Fire safety comes before new homes’

Tower block residents say they feel ‘abandoned’ by Town Hall

19 April, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Cladding being removed from Braithwaite House in 2017

TOWER block tenants feel “abandoned” as they say the council is pushing ahead with redevelopment plans without addressing their fire safety concerns.

Islington Town Hall is consulting on plans to build 42 new homes around Braithwaite House and on top of Quaker Court – demolishing the podium the two developments encircle.

But some residents in Braithwaite House have pushed back against the scheme, arguing that the council should invest in a new fire escape or sprinkler system before building new homes.

In the wake of the Grenfell fire tragedy Islington Council removed cladding from Braithwaite House after it failed independent fire safety tests.

Susie Lukes, who lives on the 17th floor of the 19-storey 1960s building, said: “The council said no to fire escapes and yet they have money to build more houses. I am not against some kind of regeneration, but we don’t feel heard. The council seem to be more keen to sell off our podium than they are to get our flats safe.”

The current fire escape in Braithwaite House is a stairwell at the south end of the building.

There is a “stay-put” and “flat-contained” fire strategy in the building, meaning if there is a fire residents are advised to stay in their flats and wait to be rescue by firefighters.

However, some residents say they do not trust the “stay- put” policy after the Grenfell fire, which claimed 72 lives.

Ms Lukes, whose home is close to the fire escape at the south end, said: “I’ve been speaking with at least 20 residents. People are absolutely terrified.

“No matter what happens, if there was a fire in this block, there is no way I am staying in my flat. None.”

The council’s scrutiny committee recommended that sprinklers should be installed in towers over 10 storeys in February last year. But the Town Hall leader Richard Watts said the decision on whether to retrofit sprinklers at a cost of between £42m to £97m would not be made until after the Grenfell Tower inquiry finishes. The second phase of the inquiry is not expected to start until next year.

All the homes in the new development are for social rent. Braithwaite House and Quaker Court residents will have “first dibs” on the new homes, according to the council.

Sarah McDonagh, who lives on the third floor with her husband and daughter, said: “I understand that they need more homes, but we are being hemmed in here.

“The residents from both buildings are losing garages, storage space, leisure space, and we’re getting nothing in return.”

She added: “Surely it makes more sense to bring our current housing stock up to scratch before building more.”

Priority for the new homes is being given to those looking to downsize, living in overcrowded accommodation or who have special needs.

An Islington Council spokeswoman said: “The strategy dictated by the most recent fire risk assessment for Braithwaite House remains the most appropriate and is in line with national and London Fire Brigade guidance.

“Considerable works have been carried out since Grenfell to protect the means of escape route at Braithwaite House, alongside an ongoing cladding replacement project.

“The council is looking at the possibility to retrofit sprinklers in blocks and will take into consideration all outcomes of the Grenfell inquiry and the government’s response.

“It is important to note that increasing our supply of housing does not defund any of our fire safety projects, the funding is not interrelated.”

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