Council in multi-million court battle over allegedly sub-par fire doors

The council is being sued for £9.5million and is countersuing for £2.2million
By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor

Northwood Tower is one of several council blocks where the contested fire doors were installed
Northwood Tower is one of several council blocks where the contested fire doors were installed

Waltham Forest Council is set for a multi-million pound court battle with its former maintenance company, which it alleges installed hundreds of sub-par fire doors.

Osborne Property Services was hired to maintain the borough’s 12,5000 council homes from 2012 to 2019 but, last May, sued the council for £9.5million of unpaid fees.

The council, meanwhile, is countersuing Osborne for £2.2m over almost 300 fire doors and has warned it is now investigating thousands more installed by the company.

While the trial is not scheduled to take place until next May, court documents obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service show the current arguments from both sides.

Following the Grenfell tragedy, the council paid Osborne to install hundreds of new fire doors in several council blocks, meant to withstand flames for up to an hour.

However, it claims tests to 223 doors found they lasted only 31 to 45 minutes, while a further 75 doors failed to meet even the legally required 30-minute mark.

The council concludes with a warning: “[Waltham Forest] is currently investigating a further 5,850 fire doors. Insofar as these are found to be defective, [Waltham Forest] may seek to amend its claim in due course.”

The council has previously fielded criticism about the fire doors installed in five council blocks: Northwood Tower, Boothby Court, Goddarts House, Holmcroft House, and Lime Court.

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Regarding these more than 200 doors, cabinet member for housing Louise Mitchell previously insisted they all “meet the current building safety regulations of 30 minutes’ fire protection”.

Speaking in January last year, she added: “A commercial claim, which is currently confidential, has been made against the previous contractor who did not supply the product as specified.”

The location of the further 75 doors that did not meet the legal requirement of 30 minutes has not been disclosed.

Osborne denies any failures, saying it “exercised reasonable skill and care in the choice of supplier and/or in the selection of doors”.

The company adds: “Alternatively, [Waltham Forest] has not provided any particulars of how Osborne is said to have breached this contractual standard.”

The company also insists the council owes it another £9.5million for repairs and maintenance because of a pricing change agreed with the council’s former arms-length management company, Ascham Homes, in 2012.

It argues Waltham Forest “adopted an inconsistent and invalid approach” to prices for repairing or renovating council tenants’ kitchens and bathrooms, erecting scaffolding or carrying out asbestos surveys.

Waltham Forest says its then-client representative at Ascham Homes, who agreed the price changes, had “no authority to vary the contract” and was “not capable” under the original agreement.

Waltham Forest Council dissolved Ascham Homes in 2015 after it spent at least £7.6m bailing it out twice.

The council’s housing maintenance contract is currently with Morgan Sindall.

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