Concerns remain after Grenfell

Michelle Edwards continues her investigation into fire safety at a Walthamstow tower block

Northwood Tower

Northwood Tower in Walthamstow

Like uncollected rubbish, the stench of the Grenfell Tower tragedy just keeps growing.

Kensington and Chelsea Council is facing fresh criticism after inviting survivors of the fire to ‘bid’ against each other for permanent accommodation. And despite the £19m raised, just 30 percent of the fund has reached survivors and bereaved families more than two months after the fire.

In the Echo last month I reported on the 21-storey Northwood Tower, in Marlowe Road Estate, Walthamstow. In the aftermath of Grenfell, I wanted to know whether residents of the block feared for their safety. Unsurprisingly, residents were petrified, despite assurances by the council that no Waltham Forest-owned blocks had been identified as having combustible cladding material.

The commonality between the treatment of the two sites is stark. Multiple concerns have been raised about fire safety with the council only for them to be ignored, before a fire – fortunately, without injury – did indeed occur.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Waltham Forest Council instructed its contractor Osborne to carry out an “external works programme”. Residents were notified in a letter that the works would include new windows and front doors, internal and external decorations, and improving communal flooring, landing and stairs.

On receipt of the letter, several residents invited me to their homes to look at the interior. Of those observed, there was a notable gap between the fire door and doorframes. Fire doors have two important functions in a fire; when closed they form a barrier to stop the spread of fire, and when opened they provide a means of escape. It is reasonable to assume that all fire doors and doorframes should be fit for purpose.

The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 imposes a statutory duty on landlords to keep in repair the structure and exterior of their dwellings. Tenants have the right to live in a home that is safe and secure, not just after a national tragedy has occurred. But at the time of going to press, residents at Northwood Tower still have twelve outstanding fire safety concerns. I will write them again here, for the record. Is it really too much to expect them to be addressed?

  1. Wooden hoardings currently encasing escape routes – are they fire resistant?
  2. No sprinkler system or fire extinguishers on landings;
  3. No communal fire alarm;
  4. A ‘stay put’ policy in the event of a fire, advice that was to blame for deaths at Grenfell;
  5. No fire prevention advice specific to Northwood Tower;
  6. Stairs are wooden-topped – are they fire resistant?
  7. Will the new paint applied during redecoration works be fire-resistant?
  8. Broken windows in bin rooms covered with chipboard, while vents in the stairwell are covered with wooden panels;
  9. Bin chutes are blocked up to the fifth floor;
  10. Pigeon netting – is it fire-resistant?
  11. A number of fire doors leading to the staircase get stuck on the floor, wedge open, or do not close at all;
  12. Escape route from back of building is very narrow.