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Finsbury tower block cladding finally comes off

‘We’ve been sitting in a lethal fire-trap for 15 years,’ says resident amid concern at disruption

22 June, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Scaffolding at St Mary’s Tower

A HOUSING association started removing potentially flammable insulation from two tower blocks in Finsbury yesterday (Thursday) as questions were raised over why it was not taken down earlier following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Workers contracted by housing association Pea­body Trust put up scaffolding around St Mary’s Tower and Peabody Tower, off White­cross Street Market. A handful of fire wardens were seen around the buildings.

The 13-storey towers are just a stone’s throw from council-owned Braith­­waite House, which was found to have similar cladding to Grenfell Tower, where a fire killed 72 people. The Town Hall started removing the cladding there last June.

“We’ve been sitting in a lethal fire-trap for 15 years,” said one resident, who did not wish to be named.

Braith­­waite House

She said she was told by the housing association that the removal was prompted by a recent re-testing of cladding and insulation around the former redbrick blocks. It is understood that Peabody first tested the cladding at the blocks soon after the Grenfell fire but it was found to be safe.

“The question to answer is when exactly did they find out it was unsafe and why has it become unsafe now when it was safe before?” she asked.

The cladding and insulation at the Finsbury towers went up around 15 years ago to improve homes and reduce carbon emissions.

St Mary’s Tower 

Plans to remove clad­ding and insulation – due to take around six months – were unveiled at a meeting on Monday with residents and councillors. “I heard it was very heated. I couldn’t get in because it was so packed. But the meeting I went to afterwards was calm, but maybe that’s because there were less people,” said the resident. “There’s going to be a lot of disruption. There’s a lot of old people living in this building. We don’t know what will happen to them, but Peabody said they will rehouse them and will try to avoid hotels.

“I don’t think Peabody would have willingly put our lives at risk. I think they’ve reacted quickly.”

Ashling Fox, Chief Operating Officer at Peabody, said a number of actions had already been completed including changing the fire strategy from ‘stay put’ to evacuation in the event of a suspected fire, offering temporary accommodation to those who felt they couldn’t evacuate without assistance and carrying out evacuation plans for vulnerable residents. The housing association has also fitted communal fire alarms and heat detectors and are reviewing the flammability and composition of all insulation and cladding on their blocks.

Ms Fox said: “Last week we were told by a fire expert we had commissioned that materials on two blocks on our Whitecross Estate in Islington would be a concern in the event of a fire. This has come to light now as we have strengthened our Fire Risk Assessments. Polystyrene insulation was and continues to be widely used as a thermal insulation solution throughout the UK.

“At Whitecross it was installed in around 2005 as part of an energy efficiency scheme. It is not at all related to the cladding used at Grenfell Tower. As a result of the Fire Risk Assessment we have taken a number of actions to support our residents and started a project to remove all of the cladding and insulation from the building as soon as possible. We do not want to wait until the material has been tested to do this.

“Peabody staff immediately took action to decide how to deal with the risk and to put interim remedial measures in place on the day we were told of the issue. This situation is a very difficult one for residents. We are doing everything possible to help them through this as well as ensure that the blocks are safe and fit for purpose.

“Some families have expressed a desire to be temporarily rehoused while we carry out the works.  A number of temporary properties in the borough have been identified. We are currently working with the families to match them with suitable homes to meet their needs and agreed timescales. Most residents are happy to stay in the blocks given the measures we have put in place.

“We have held a series of meetings with residents with more planned in the near future to provide a comprehensive service at this difficult time.”

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