U-turn on fire door risks at tower block
Pledge to fit replacements raises concern about earlier safety checks
28 July, 2017 — By Emily Finch
Residents outside Michael Cliffe House in Clerkenwell
IN a climbdown this week the Town Hall promised to fit new fire doors at a Clerkenwell tower block despite a recent report stating they were “low risk”.
The change of heart has raised concerns about the validity of the borough’s fire risk assessments.
In a letter in the Tribune today (Friday), Islington housing chief Diarmaid Ward says: “We agree fire doors at Michael Cliffe House need replacing, and are addressing this as a priority.”
He confirmed that fire doors separating the corridor from the stairwell in the communal areas of the council-owned flats would be replaced.
But a fire risk assessment carried out by a council inspector in July last year said the fire doors were “low risk” and did not recommend replacing them. Instead, the inspector said “the fire doors within the common and landlord areas [are] suitable and sufficient”.
Residents of the 24-storey block 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. Richard Larcombe, who lives on the 17th floor and is chairman of Finsbury Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said he no longer felt confident about council assessments. The fire-resistant doors at the entrance to individual flats also needed to be replaced, he added.
In a letter in the Tribune last week, Mr Larcombe said: “They [the current communal fire doors] would offer minimal smoke protection in the event of evacuation via the staircases as they are around 50 years old and have large gaps, cracked glass or doors that do not close, in addition to falling short of current standards of fire door design.”
Of the fire inspection undertaken in July last year, Councillor Ward said: “We’ve got every confidence in our fire safety officers.”
He added that the council owed it to residents to ensure their safety and would now carry out an audit.
During a fractious meeting with Town Hall chiefs and residents of high-rise buildings in Finsbury and Clerkenwell on Tuesday, Cllr Ward defended the delay in having all the cladding removed from Braithwaite House.
Independent tests of cladding at the Bunhill block, fitted as part of a 1998 refurbishment, confirmed the presence of aluminium composite material (ACM) last month. Grenfell Tower, the block of flats in North Kensington where at least 80 people died in a fire last month, had aluminium panels in its cladding.
Cllr Ward said the Town Hall’s fire safety procedures are examined by an independent body.